By Andrew Ayik
When having a conversation with some of my peers during lunch, I mentioned how Christians around the world and in particular the Middle East are constantly being persecuted against, as the topic was brought up.
The response of my peers was to “cut the bullsh*t.” This made me realize how naive some of us in Canada are. We truly undervalue the privilege of living in a free country where we will not encounter violence when choosing to practice religion. We like to think that what happens in Canada is a universal way of living. How could Christians be prosecuted when they seem to make up most of the western world? It is unknown to many that Christianity in fact is the most persecuted religion in the world. In 2022, 360 million Christians experienced “high levels of persecution and discrimination.” Given my conversation at lunch, it is clear that we have difficulty recognizing the fact that in 2023 people will still be prosecuted for having faith in their religion.
The topic of religious persecution has been written about many times in TBAW including a piece on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and an inspiration for this piece which was a piece on the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt by Daniel Botros ‘21 which won the Ponton Prize Award. However, it is still evident that we must educate ourselves more on these issues. Unfortunately, we are stuck with what we see online and what we learn at school.
The Middle East has been the cradle of Christianity since its inception, with the region home to some of the world’s oldest Christian communities. However, in recent years, these communities have come under severe attack, with discrimination and persecution on the rise. Before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted tyrant Saddam Hussein, Iraq was projected to contain over 1.5 million Christians. This included churches from the Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian, and Armenian traditions that date back to the early centuries. Now it is estimated that only a few hundred thousand Christians remain in Iraq, with the majority fleeing due to insecurity or being murdered for their faith. Under Saddam, Christians in Iraq had protection and nearly equal rights to the country’s majority of Muslims, but they were among the first to be attacked as security broke down and sectarian violence broke out, which continued for years after the 2003 U.S.-led war that overthrew him. On October 31, 2010 Islamic militants seized a Baghdad church during a peaceful Sunday evening mass. The militants killed dozens of people including two priests in what was a horrific four hour period. It was recorded as the deadliest assault ever on Christians in Iraq. On the 15th of February 2015, a five minute video by ISIS was published. This video demonstrates an attack on 21 Coptic Christians of Egypt where it showed the beheading of the captives on a beach. The captives were given an opportunity to convert to Islam in order to spare their lives but as seen in the video the captives continue to cry out “Ya Rabb Yeshua!” which translates to “O Lord Jesus!” This instance was extremely frightening for the Coptic Christian community as they no longer felt safe practicing their religion. As an a Armenian this reminded me of what occurred 108 years ago during the Armenian Genocide where Ottoman soldiers gave Armenains the ultimatum to either turn to Islam and survive or remain Christian and die. It is hard to believe that these instances still occur over a century apart.
However, discrimination against Christians is not limited to these countries alone. In Saudi Arabia, for example, Christians are not allowed to openly practice their faith, and it is illegal to build churches. Similarly, in Iran, Christians face discrimination in many aspects of their lives, including education and employment. This issue also goes beyond the middle east. Christians face discrimination all around the world, including in many pieces of western media. This past February Network 10’s The Project, in Australia was under fire for comments made on the show. Comedian Reuben Kaye said “I love Jesus, I love any man who can get nailed for three days straight and come back for more.” This so-called joke was met with laughter from the panel of news anchors. Project 10 continued to post this interview with its blasphemous remarks. It is crazy to think that comments like this are being made on live television in 2023. Similarly, Netflix’s The Last Hangover, which is a parody of Jesus’ Last Supper, earned 500 million USD in the box-office, once again showing how Christians are made fun of for their faith. Additionally, being a Christian is a crime in many countries. In North Korea, for example, practicing Christianity can lead to imprisonment or even death. In India, the rise of Hindu nationalism has led to increased violence against Christians, with churches being vandalized and pastors being attacked.
These examples are only a few of many as on an everyday basis, Churches are being bombed and Christians are attacked for their faith. Instances of religious persecution remain widespread around the world. When thinking about the Holocaust and the World Wars we like to think that our world has come a long way but in reality we haven’t. Oftentimes you hear the notion of ‘Never Again’ but this is merely a broken promise. The cycle of violence continues in our world and has stopped us from progressing. It is important to recognize that there is a problem so that we can educate ourselves on these issues and take the necessary steps to ensure that violence does not occur against Religions around the world. I will leave you with a quote by Mr. Elie Wiesel (Holocaust Survivor) who said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” For everyone reading this, please end the silence!