“We Will Displace You …”: Persecution of Christians, December 2018

by Raymond Ibrahim

  • Saudi Arabia, America’s close friend and ally, failed to live up to its promise to eliminate extremist content — that promotes hostility for, and violence against, religious minorities — from its 2018-19 school year curriculum.
  • “Examples of this content include demeaning non-Muslims and encouraging jihad against them. The execution of apostates is prescribed and children are encouraged not to associate with non-Muslims. Saudi Arabia not only continues to use these textbooks domestically, but exports them to other parts of the Middle East.” — Report from International Christian Concern, December 1, 2018.
  • British authorities decided to deport a Christian man back to Pakistan, where he was previously beaten and threatened with death, “despite UK playing host to [Muslim] hijackers, extremists and rapists,” to quote from one headline. Asher Samson, 41, “first arrived in the UK in 2004 to carry out his theology training in order to become a pastor, but later applied for asylum after receiving threats from Islamic extremists during visits home…” According to Samson, “If they do send me back my life will be really in danger… I’m so scared… People know who I am, they know I am a Christian…” — The Independent, December 24, 2018.

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On December 1, Shabak, an Iraqi Shia militia formed in 2014 to reclaim the Nineveh Plain from the Islamic State, opened fire on the St. George Assyrian Church in Bartella, formerly a Christian-majority city in Iraq, and threatened its priest, Fr. Behnam Benoka. Pictured: St. George Assyrian Church in Bartella. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Slaughter of Christians

Egypt: A Muslim policeman charged with guarding a Coptic Christian church shot and killed two Christians — a father, 49, and his son, 21 — on the night of December 12 in Minya. Eyewitnesses say a quarrel had ensued before the officer pulled out his gun and opened fire on the two men. Video footage of the incident shows the killer-cop brandishing his gun as he stalks around the bloodied but still moving Christians on the ground. He loudly curses them — or all Copts in general? — as “mother-f*****s.” Thousands of angry Christians attended the funeral, chanting kyrie eleison (“Lord have mercy!”), and, “Where are the rights of the martyrs!” Coptic Solidarity said in a statement:

“Whatever punishment—if any!—the killer policeman may end up getting, the real culprit in this heinous crime is nothing but the authorities themselves, as they have allowed impunity to killers of Copts time and again, making it easy for anybody having an argument with a Copt to pull a gun, or knife, and just kill.”

Attacks on Christians by Muslim officers have been taking place in Egypt. In 2011an off-duty policeman boarded a train, identified some of its passengers as Coptic Christians (based on the tattoo of the cross on the wrists of some of them) and opened fire. He killed one elderly Christian and wounded four others, all the while shouting Islam’s war cry, “Allahu Akbar!” [“Allah is the greatest!”] More recently, a Muslim “policeman tasked with guarding a church from extremists instead aggressively entered the church and hurled insults at the congregation, calling them infidels.” Coptic Bishop Makarious likened the recent killing of Christian father and son at the hand of an officer guarding their church as having the “fox guard the hen house.” He added that this incident is worse than the St. Samuel Monastery attacks — in which Islamic terrorists massacred scores of Christians on two separate occasions, the more recent weeks before this double murder — as it involves, not outlaws, but a lawman.

Nigeria: On the day after Christmas, Islamic Fulani tribesmen slaughtered seven Christians. Rawuru, where the murders took place, had been attacked by the Muslim tribesmen six months earlier; then, 230 Christians were butchered. “The size and coordination of those attacks showed that this could not just be another small local clash. It was clearly a well thought out and preplanned attack meant to kill as many people as possible,” the report said. “These types of attacks are not the normal farmer-herder conflict that the Nigerian government has been trying to claim they are,” the report continued, referring to both domestic and foreign mainstream media reports that habitually portray the murders as a result of clashes between nomadic Fulani herdsmen, who just so happen to be Muslim, and farmers, who just so happen to be Christians.

Attacks on Christian Churches

Egypt: Rioting Muslims shouting “Allahu Akbar!” [“Allah is the greatest!”] attacked and caused authorities to shut down yet another church on December 10. According to the report,

[G]roups of Muslim villagers … waged attacks against the houses of the Copts in the village of Kom al-Raheb, pelting them with stones and thumping at doors and windows. They were livid that the Copts had a day earlier, Sunday 9 December, opened a new church building and celebrated Holy Mass inside. The police arrived and demanded immediate closure of the unlicensed church. The Copts persuaded the police to wait for Mass to conclude before closing the building, which they did and confiscated its keys…. [F]undamentalist Muslims had used the local mosque’s microphone to rally the village Muslims against the Copts.

“It’s a hard time,” said one local Christian. “We don’t know what we should do. How does the government permit us to open new churches and then force us to close churches? We barely open churches, and the police don’t want to keep us safe!” “They are easily building many mosques, and when we try [to] build a church, all of them try to harm us,” said another. “We are so depressed,” added the local pastor. “It’s not the first time extremists [have done] this; I think it’s government policy toward the Christians. We have nothing to do, just pray… God is good.”

Iraq: On December 1, Shabak, a Shia militia formed in 2014 to reclaim the Nineveh Plain from the Islamic State, opened fire on the St. George Assyrian Church in Bartella, formerly a Christian-majority city, and threatened its priest, Fr. Behnam Benoka. Discussing the incident, Benedict Kiely, a Catholic priest, wrote:

Last week I spoke with Fr. Benoka for over 40 minutes on FaceTime. A few weeks ago, the Shabak militia blocked the road to his church, preventing his congregation from attending. They also strafed the church with gunfire. Fr. Benoka told me that this was the second time his church had been attacked in the last nine months. One of the militiamen held a handgun to the priest’s face when he went out to demand that they clear the street and stop shooting. Later, in a provocation unreported in any media, the same hostile militia went to Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town on the Nineveh Plain, and menaced the people living there. Fr. Benoka told me that the Shabak want to drive the Christians from the area. “They are the new ISIS,” he told me. “We are really vulnerable.”…

A separate December 2 report concerning the Islamic State’s attacks on the Christian communities found that 120 Christian churches and shrines and thousands of Christian homes were destroyed in Mosul alone. An estimated 15 billion dinars (more than $12 million USD) is required to restore these building. According to the report,

“The damage ISIS wrecked upon Christians was not just physical property damage. ISIS targeted Christians for genocide and many believers reported how their neighbors joined the militants in their violent intentions. Mosul’s Christians in particular are quick to point out that the ideology of ISIS was heavily present in their city long before the militants made it their capital in Iraq. Community trust was broken, lives lost, families separated.”

Uzbekistan: Forty police and military personnel raided an unregistered Baptist church in the capital, Tashkent, during Sunday morning worship on November 25. Police detained 14 Christians, including a 14-year-old boy, kept them outside in near freezing temperatures, and later interrogated some of them for several hours. Everyone in attendance was photographed and their details recorded. Nearly 8,000 pieces of Christian literature and hymn books were seized. When one woman tried to conceal some songbooks used for worship, an official “screamed at her that you are liars, Christians must not hide anything,” said a witness. Toward evening, as temperatures dropped below zero, authorities cut off the church’s heat. “[We] were almost freezing as it is very cold at night,” a member of a family staying in the building said. Officials told the congregation, “[W]e will come every Sunday and disrupt the church service every time until you give up and stop your activity…. We as the state cannot adjust to you, you need to adjust to our laws.” As in many other Muslim majority nations, stringent legal requirements make it virtually impossible to register churches in Uzbekistan.

Lebanon: Security officials foiled an Islamic State terror plot targeting Christians and their places of worship: a 10-month police surveillance operation, code-named “Lethal Cheese,” uncovered explosives hidden in buckets of cheese smuggled in from Syria. Although Lebanon was once the Arab world’s only Christian majority nation, Christians now represent about 36% of the population and are quickly dwindling, thanks most recently to a large influx of Muslim refugees from Syria . In 2016, eight Islamic State suicide bombers exploded themselves — two in front of a church — in Al Qaa, a predominantly Christian town on Lebanon’s border with Syria.

Attacks on Christian “Blasphemers”

Pakistan: On December 13, a court sentenced two Christian brothers to death for allegedly posting blasphemous material on a website in 2011. The brothers, Qaisar and Amoon Ayub, first got in trouble when the offensive material appeared on a website that was copyrighted to Qaisar’s name. He testified that he had shut down the site in 2009, but that a Muslim acquaintance reactivated it, and kept it in Qaisar’s name. Regardless, Muslims rioted and called for the Christians’ life, prompting the brothers to flee to Thailand. They were arrested soon after they returned to Pakistan in 2015. “[B]ecause of threats from hardliners lower courts pass their responsibility to the higher court and then it takes years to prove the accused innocent,” said human rights activist Nasir Saeed. “We have seen this in the recent case of Asia Bibi.”

Egypt: On December 22, an appeals court upheld a Christian man’s three-year prison sentence for blaspheming against Islam. Abd Adel Bebawy was arrested six months earlier, in July, after he linked to an article that compared Muhammad to Jesus on Facebook. On the following day, Muslims rioted in Minbal, where he resided. They attacked Christian homes and tried to storm the village church. When windows were smashed, some of the Christians sustained injuries from the shards of glass. One resident recalled:

“The Muslim extremists in our village and the nearby villages incited the Muslim villagers against us …. They began pelting the Coptic-owned houses with stones and bricks, while shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [‘Allah is the greatest’] and chanting slogans against Copts, such as ‘We will displace you and the priest from our village, oh kafir [infidels], O worshipers of the cross, O defiled people.'”

“We lived very terrible moments while the mob were attacking our homes. Our children were screaming,” said another. “We spent a painful evening… An evening of terror,” another Christian resident of Minbal recalled. A lawyer involved in Bebawy’s case said, “This is not a sentence based on the law, but it is meant to please the public!” “We were thinking that the appeal will end up setting Abd free, and we were thinking who will compensate Abd for the months detained in prison until we reached the appeal time. Who will compensate his family, who have left the village and his kids moved to another school?” a family friend, Mona, explained. “Now after the [three-year] prison sentence, there is no justice expected.” “What [else] is expected by a blasphemy law?” asked Moheb, another family friend. “It is a law meant to be tailored for Christians so anyone can accuse a Christian and no matter what the proof of innocence is, he will be imprisoned.”

Indonesia: According to one report, “On December 2, an estimated 100,000 Muslims dressed in white carrying Islamic flags gathered at the national monument in Indonesia’s capitol of Jakarta. The occasion was to mark the second anniversary of a mass protest that led to the downfall, and the arrest, of Jakarta’s Christian governor,” known as Ahok. Two years earlier, “[o]n December 2, 2016, thousands of Muslim hardliners gathered to rallies that demanded him [to] be arrested for blasphemy.” He “was arrested for blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of insulting the Quran.” Ahok is still serving his sentence.

Attacks on Muslim Apostates to Christianity

Uganda: “In 24 hours earlier this month, a [Muslim] convert to Christianity … lost his livelihood, wife and children to irate relatives and other Muslims,” reads a report. On December 7, a mosque leader “led a mob to Muhamud Gusolo’s banana plantation and destroyed it after Gusulo’s father objected to him leaving Islam for Christ.” According to Muhamud, 28, a month earlier,

“My father [had] confronted me for being a disgrace to the family as a result of my conversion to Christ. Since my expulsion from the community, no one in my community has come to my aid. My father has openly denied me as his son, and the community has openly threatened me, saying, ‘No burial rites for you, a kaffir [infidel]’…. My wife and children also turned against me…. I am a very frustrated man with no family. After being ostracized from my community, I have appealed for help to the government administration, but this has fallen on deaf ears. I am very far from my family and reside in a lonely environment in another village.”

In a separate incident in Uganda, a former Muslim wife, and mother of four between the ages of five and nine, was beaten, strangled, and threatened with death by her Muslim husband for embracing Christianity. Shakira Wanyenze, 31, converted six months earlier and managed to conceal her new faith from her husband, Ismail. One night, however, “My husband arrived home at around 8 p.m. on the 30th [of November] and heard me concluding the prayers using the name of Jesus,” she explained. “When he interrogated me to give reasons why I was using the name of Jesus, I kept quiet.” On the following morning he resumed questioning her; again she kept silent. He repeatedly began to slap her, successively harder with each strike. When she screamed for help he struck her hand with a wooden board, causing her fingers to bleed. “I fell down, and he started to strangle me. Fortunately, neighbors arrived and rescued me and took me to a clinic at Buyaga town council for treatment, and I was discharged after two days.” Shakira soon learned that her husband had purchased a coffin in preparation for killing her. She and her children took refuge at a pastor’s home. At last report, Ismail was sending threatening message to the pastor, such as, “If you continue housing my wife in your house, then let it be known to you that soon I will be coming for your head.”

General Hostility for Christians

Saudi Arabia: America’s close friend and ally failed to live up to its promise to eliminate extremist content — that promotes hostility for, and violence against, religious minorities — from its 2018-19 school year curriculum. According to a December 1 report:

Saudi Arabia had previously pledged to remove all incitement content from its textbooks by 2008 and the government continues to allege that this issue has long since been resolved. However, other reports say otherwise. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a study this past March which says that the curriculum contains incitement content which had been thought removed. Examples of this content include demeaning non-Muslims and encouraging jihad against them. The execution of apostates is prescribed and children are encouraged not to associate with non-Muslims. Saudi Arabia not only continues to use these textbooks domestically, but exports them to other parts of the Middle East.

Iraq: A Christian leader asked the Ministry of Education to review statements within public school curriculum that contributes to hostility for non-Muslim minorities. For instance, one fifth-grade textbook teaches that women who do not wear the veil — which includes virtually all Christian women — are “sick.” A separate report that appeared on December 9 — one year to the day since Iraq’s former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State — found that Christians continued to be persecuted and discriminated against. Majid, a local Christian, said, “I think before we celebrate ISIS’s defeat anniversary, we should go back to our history. We never experienced a stable situation during the past six decades… ISIS 2.0 is something possible.”

Indonesia: Local Muslims sawed off the top of a cross from a deceased Christian’s tomb — so that it does not resemble a crucifix — and prevented mourners from meeting and saying prayers in the deceased man’s home . Although there was an uproar on social media, local Christians said they were fine with the occurrence. Of the 150 families in the village, three are Christian and 147 Muslim. “There is no grudge between the family and neighbours,” Hans Supatman, an activist for religious dialogue, said. “Everything is fine and even the funeral service was done quietly.” The cemetery “uproar occurred on social media and outside the village,” he noted. “Everything is fine here and everyone is happy.”

Christmas Time Hate

Iraq: The nation’s highest Sunni authority and grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Sumaidaie, issued a fatwa (Islamic decree) against Christmas. He said it is haram (forbidden) for Muslims to participate in any celebrations “of the cross” or even acknowledge the Christian holiday. “It is not acceptable to take part in the New Year celebrations or to congratulate Christians during Christmas,” he announced during Friday prayer at a mosque in downtown Baghdad, as doing so “means that you believe in their doctrine.”

Indonesia: Authorities arrested two Islamic terrorists who were plotting to massacre Christians during Christmas and New Year celebrations. Both men belong to the Islamic State-linked organization Jamah Ansyarut Daulah. The organization “has launched several terrorist attacks, some targeting Christians and claimed dozens of lives,” in recent years, notes the report. “The two come from one terrorist network, and we are now investigating the movement of this network in Java,” a police spokesman added. “Hopefully, [we] can reveal the network so the atmosphere of Christmas and New Year celebrations will be conducive.”

In the days leading to Christmas, security forces arrested about 20 more would-be terrorists. According to the report:

These detentions were made as preventive measure under a revised anti-terrorism law approved in May, after Islamic State followers attacked churches and police with suicide bombs, killing more than 30 people in the city of Surabaya…. radicalized Islam is growing inside the country and scores of Indonesians have travelled to the Middle East to join the Islamic State group. Attacks on churches in the nation’s capital, Jakarta, and elsewhere on Christmas Eve in 2000, claimed the lives of nearly 20 people. Ever since, authorities have stepped up security at churches and tourist spots during the holiday season.

Iran: Although it is common for the number of arrests of Christians to increase around Christmastime — when the Islamic Republic seeks to deter interest through intimidation — beginning in November and into Christmas week, 2018, more than 150 Christians were arrested. Some, including two sisters in detention, were brutally beaten. “The current situation has been described by some as unprecedented,” said a spokesman for the human rights group, Middle East Concern.

“There are a huge number of arrests and detentions…. Recently it seems there is definitely a coordinated and determined campaign to decimate the Christian community and to spread fear and intimidation…. There is no doubt that it’s the Christian faith of these individuals that is the reason behind their arrests and detentions.”

Pakistan: As in other Muslim nations (such as Indonesia, above), security for churches is often increased during Christmas and Easter. Due, however, to the widespread outrage after the announced acquittal of Asia Bibi — a Christian woman who had been on death row for nearly a decade for allegedly “blaspheming” against Muhammad — church security had to be redoubled around Christmas. According to the report:

Churches have previously been the target of suicide bombers and this year, police have trained hundreds of Christian volunteers in an effort to see the season through peacefully. More than 1,500 police have been deployed across Islamabad and Rawalpindi to protect churchgoers over Christmas… CCTV cameras have also been installed at entry points and parking restrictions have been put in place to keep cars at least 100m away from church buildings. In Abbottabad, a district north-east of Islamabad, police were sweeping churches with sniffer dogs and bomb disposal units ahead of Christmas celebrations. Christians have been fearful of retaliatory attacks since Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy, for which she had received a death sentence. She was freed from prison in November but immediately forced into hiding as Muslim extremists hunted her down.”

United Kingdom: British authorities decided to deport a Christian man back to Pakistan, where he was previously beaten and threatened with death, “despite UK playing host to [Muslim] hijackers, extremists and rapists,” to quote from one headline. Asher Samson, 41, “first arrived in the UK in 2004 to carry out his theology training in order to become a pastor, but later applied for asylum after receiving threats from Islamic extremists during visits home,” says the report: “His asylum claim was rejected earlier this year and Mr. Samson is now being held in Morton Hall Detention Centre in Lincoln where he has been told he will be deported.”

“They told me they had booked me a flight and I refused to go,” Samson said. “They said next time they will take me by force.” He said he has “no one and nowhere to go” in Pakistan: “If they do send me back my life will be really in danger. I’m so scared…. People know who I am, they know I am a Christian and they have seen me on social media.” Revered Lorraine Shorten, the pastor of Samson’s church of 10 years, confirmed that he was a “well-thought-of” member of the community…. It’s shameful — we are a Christian country yet we can’t help them [Samson and his brother]. It’s terrifying to send him back there with the situation for Christians in Pakistan.” (Click to Source)

Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

About this Series

While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by extremists is growing. The report posits that such persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location.

Previous reports

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© 2019 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

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