Reprinted for educational purposes from the NY Times of April 29, 1997



They are outsiders among us. They use their foreign religion to poison our wells, and destroy our belief in ourselves and the God we must follow. Throughout the persecution of Jews, that has been the accusation and justification: an evil religion of the evil outsider. In their terror and helplessness, sometimes victims pleaded that the charge of foreignness was not true -- look at us, we are like you -- almost as if being different made their persecution at least explicable to the human mind.

Now foreignness is the weapon used by persecutors of Christians in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Islamicist inquisitors use the weapon in the name of heavenly righteousness, the Chinese political police in the name of their frightened, last-ditch nationalism. Both types of persecutors of Christians benefit from a peculiar protection -- the attitude of many Western Christians that Christianity is indeed foreign to Asia and Africa, a valuable export certainly, but not really, well, indigenous, to the soil.

So they see faraway Christianity as separate from themselves. This profits persecutors, by preventing the persecuted from getting the succor they need, and due them. The aloofness of Christians to their distant persecuted is a denial of the reality that Christianity was not only born in the Mideast but spread wide and deep in Asia and Africa long before Islam or Western Christian missionaries arrived.

By now, according to David B. Barret's Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission, 1996, there are 300 million church-affiliated Christians in Asia, the same number in Africa -- and 200 million in all of North America. Americans are waking up to the persecution of Christians in Communist China. Their own Government, however, gives it zero priority compared with Washington's lust for the bizarre privilege of trade with China granted by Beijing: to buy eight times more from China than China does from America.

But how many Americans know or care about the increasing persecution of Mideast Christians, like the 10 million Copts of Egypt -- the largest Christian community in the region? Copts are vilified as outsiders, though they have lived in Egypt since the seventh century. In February and March, 25 Copts were shot to death in Islamicist attacks on a church and a school. The attacks were part of the worst outbreak of Christian-killing in 25 years. And Islamic fundamentalists have been allowed to carry out year-round harassment of Copts, including destruction of churches that Copts then are not allowed to rebuild. In early April Mustapha Mashour, "general guide" of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, a fountain of Mideast terrorism for 50 years, announced a new goal: to bar Copts from the army, police and senior government positions on the grounds that they were a fifth column. He also demanded that a "protection tax" be imposed on Christians, as in the time of the Prophet.

Elsewhere in the Mideast, persecution includes the Sudan's trade in Christian slaves. But the Egyptian Government boasts of fighting extremists and has received praise and billions from America. In the U.S., a coalition of 60 human rights and ethnic organizations watches out for persecution of minorities under "Islamization." The coalition's definition is a political and cultural process to establish Islamic law, the Sharia, as the ruling principle of all society, to which all must conform.

This is what the Very Rev. Keith Roderick, an Episcopal priest, who is secretary general of the coalition, reports about Egypt:

"The government has created an atmosphere of bigotry and hatred toward the Coptic minority, allowing the Copts to become human safety valves for Islamic militants. . . . A significant reduction in [U.S. foreign aid] for Egypt would send a strong signal that the U.S. has adopted a serious priority objective in its foreign policy to eliminate Christian persecution."

Ignorance of the history or huge number of Christian worshipers in faraway countries tends to make American Christians, and Jews too, passive about the persecution of Christians. As long as passivity lasts, so long will persecution continue. It has always been so.

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