The Christmas season for Christians around the world officially ends today, January 6, with the Feast of the Three Kings or the Epiphany. But a quick look in the rear view mirror over the past few weeks depicts a violent and bloody holiday season for Christians commemorating their most holy and celebrated holiday. The Christmas death toll was global and it was significant. Accounts were carried by the world media but, ostensibly, it was anecdotal and little editorial comment was offered. In each of the attacks and various episodes, a common denominator was evident: Christians, worshipping and celebrating Christmas, were targeted and killed by radical Islamic fundamentalists. A synopsis provides us with the breadth and depth and total senselessness of it all.
In Bagdad, Iraq, 10 bombs rattled throughout the city on the eve of Christmas Eve, killing 2 and wounding 20. Bombs were strategically placed near the homes of 14 different Christian families and, fortunately, 4 of the bombs were diffused before they had time to reap their carnage. An Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility and promised more to come on its web-site. The Iraqi Christmas bombings followed the October siege and bombing of a Catholic church that left 60 dead, including 2 clergy, and many more wounded, both physically and, undoubtedly, psychologically. For many Christians in Iraq, despite the urgings of the church to remain and stay strong, this will be the last straw. Iraq has seen, through persecution and attacks, its Christian population drop from 1.4 million, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, to just fewer than 500,000 today. Most Christian families are fleeing for the safety of the Kurdistan area of northern Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Turkey.
In Alexandria, Egypt, 21 Coptic Christians were killed at the Church of Two Saints while attending midnight New Year’s Eve services by either a, yet to be determined, IED car bomb or a suicide bomber. The heightened fears among Christians resulted in violent protests by the normally quiescent Christian population against the lack of action by government officials in Egypt. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has documented 52 anti-Christian incidents over the past 2 years in which the perpetrators were not punished. As is the practice in Egypt, police and local officials resolve “sectarian disputes”, as they are called, by organizing informal reconciliation between victims and oppressors, reinforcing the notion that Christians can be attacked with impunity.
In the weeks leading up to the terrorist murders at the Church of Two Saints, Al-Qaeda websites were calling for war against the Christian population in Egypt and laying out the framework for a bombing at the church. Even more incredulous, homegrown Al-Qaeda-inspired extremists in Egypt, known as Salafists, were actually handing out flyers on the streets of Alexandria just days before the bombing calling for the violence against Christians.
People in the intelligence business see the attack against Christian targets in Egypt as a part of a larger move, by radical elements, to undermine the state and capitalize on the transitioning and somewhat unstable political environment as the 82 year old Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak struggles to find a political successor who can maintain stability and political secular continuity.
In Nigeria, 3 bombs rocked through the city of Jos on Christmas Eve killing 80 according to Nigerian officials. Many were killed in post-bomb reprisal attacks as they climbed through the post-bomb carnage to rescue survivors and save any of the wounded. Reprisal or secondary explosions are classic of Al-Qaeda cells aimed at killing the respondents. In the Tanzania, Kenya, U.S. Embassy bombing, in the summer of 1998, most of the bombing victims were killed by the secondary explosion. This past year alone over 500 people have died at the hands of Islamic terrorists in Nigeria, a country divided by Muslim and Christian populations. A radical Muslim sect located in the Muslim-dominated north of the country, Boko Harum, claimed responsibility for the bombings on its web-site. Boko Harum also attacked 2 churches in the northern city of Maiduguri on Christmas Eve killing at least 6 people. Nigerian police blamed the radical Muslim sect for the bombing of a third church in Maiduguri on Christmas Eve but no one was killed.
In the Philippines, a bomb exploded during Christmas Mass in a Catholic chapel on the island of Jolo injuring 11 worshipers. Six more people were wounded at a bombing at a Christmas day Mass in the largely Muslim province of Sulu. Just south of the Philippines, in Indonesia, Christians have been targeted for years. During the Christmas Holidays, many Catholics were forced to celebrate Christmas services in parking lots in a country where Christians cannot get permits to build churches, a problem endemic throughout Muslim countries. The government deployed 8,000 police near churches in the capital of Jakarta alone to short-circuit any violence against Christians on Christmas day.
Undoubtedly, it was a sad and bloody Christmas for Christians throughout the world. Statistics show that Christians are the most persecuted group on earth and it is recognized that symbolism plays a large part in target selection by radical Islam; symbolic targets of commerce, like the World Trade Center, symbolic targets of government, democracy and the military, like Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon, and, finally, what is a more symbolic day for Christianity than the celebration of the birth of Christ.
What is most bothersome to Americans is the lack of a global uproar and the deafening silent response to these attacks. Yes, the attacks were reported in the world press along with the condemnation of the attacks by Pope Benedict XVI as “absurd violence”, but painfully little was editorialized or discussed regarding the outrageousness and senselessness of it all. As Americans living in a society, founded on the constitutional freedom of religion, it is nearly inconceivable to imagine living in a world where one is not free to express their right to worship in the religion or manner which they choose. So, why the silence? Has political correctness or the fear that we may “insult” someone by screaming out over this madness? Moreover, as was the case with the attacks of 9/11 which killed nearly 3,000 Americas on American soil, where was the voice of condemnation by Islamic leadership around the world? Why is there not a strong condemnation of these profane and irreverent attacks on the most holy of Christian holidays? Why is there not a call for accountability within mainstream Islam and substantive steps taken to purge Islam of the evil, senseless, radical elements within its ranks? For a religion that has 1.5 billion followers around the globe, why is there not a reaching out and an extension of the olive branch by the leadership within Islam to the rest of the world? Why, when Islam speaks of peace, does it not refer to the destruction perpetrated against innocents by those who have hijacked Islam under the banner of Jihad?