WASHINGTON — Members of minority religious communities, particularly Christians in the Middle East, face grave persecution around the world, religious-freedom experts warn.
“There are parts of the world today where to be a Christian is to put your life in danger. From continent to continent, Christians are facing discrimination, ostracism, torture, even murder, simply for the faith they follow,” British cabinet minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said in a Nov. 14 commentary in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
“Christian populations are plummeting, and the religion is being driven out of some of its historic heartlands,” said Warsi. “There is even talk of Christianity becoming extinct in places where it has existed for generations — where the faith was born.”
Baroness Warsi, who serves as Britain’s senior minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, as well as its minister for faith and communities, spoke Nov. 15 at Georgetown University on religious persecution around the globe. The talk was co-sponsored by the school’s Religious Freedom Project and the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Baroness Warsi’s comments are the latest in a swell of commentary on the wave of religious-freedom restrictions occurring around the globe.
The "2012 Hate Crime Report," released Nov. 15 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, detailed the incidence of hate crimes on the basis of religion and race in Western Europe.
The report also details a rise in social intolerance and legal restrictions against the practice of Christianity, in addition to anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim crimes and other expressions of discrimination on religious grounds.
A November edition of the Congressional Quarterly notes a rise in religious repression and religious extremism around the globe, and religious-freedom scholar Nina Shea called on Congress to promote “religious freedom along with other foreign-policy priorities.”
The publication referenced two 2013 reports conducted by Pew Research and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, both of which noted a significant rise in the incidence and intensity of religious persecution of minorities within the past several years. In addition, the studies noted a concerning rise in the persecution of Christians, particularly in the Middle East.
Shrinking Christian Populations
In her Daily Telegraph commentary, Baroness Warsi — herself a Muslim — noted that, while 1 in 10 Christians live in a country where they are a religious minority, the number of Christians in such countries is on the decline. Pointing to Iraq as an example, she stated that the number of Christians in the country is shrinking “from 1.2 million in 1990 to 200,000 today.”
She noted that merely instituting laws that protect religious freedom are worthless, without enforcement and cultural support from around the globe.
“I want to call for cross-faith, cross-continent unity on this issue — for a response which isn’t itself sectarian,” Warsi stated. “Because a bomb going off in a Pakistani church shouldn’t just reverberate through Christian communities; it should stir the world.”
In a Nov. 15 interview with BBC Radio 4, she continued to explain, saying that the international community needs to build a “political will” supporting already accepted norms protecting religious freedom as a human right.
“We need to speak out and raise this with the countries where this is happening.”
“Of course there have been moments when religious communities have been in conflict, but there have also been great moments of co-existence between faiths. There isn’t an intrinsic clash between different faiths,” she explained.
Warsi’s statements were supported by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
“There are real challenges for Christians in this part of the world to support and get alongside [persecuted Christians] and also for politicians to understand that the presence of Christians is a great mediating factor, often, for example, between different segments of Islam,” he said to the BBC.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, director of the British branch of Aid to the Church in Need, also pointed to the necessity of building greater interreligious cooperation and respect for religious minorities.
“In some places, it is possible that there will be no Christian presence left within my lifetime,” Kyrke-Smith warned.
“In numerous places where Christians are in the minority, they — along with other religious minorities — are facing violence and other forms of persecution from extremists who are trying to force them into submission or wipe them out.”