Americans of all political stripes have embraced the promotion of democracy as a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. But this American democracy crusade has caused huge, and largely overlooked, collateral damage since the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks against the United States in 2001. The fall of authoritarian regimes throughout the greater Middle East has fueled growing persecution of minority Christian communities. The Pew Research Center has charted extensive government restrictions on non-Muslim religions in numerous countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. Pew also has gauged very high social hostilities in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
These government restrictions and social hostilities directed against Christians are causing many to flee the region. In the early twentieth century, Christians accounted for about 20 percent of the Middle East population, but now that figure is down to only 5 percent. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the “Arab Spring,” Christian communities throughout the greater Middle East find themselves increasingly besieged. While the United States seems to notice bits and pieces of this picture, the full magnitude of the horrific Christian plight is largely ignored.
Sieges against Christians in Lands “Liberated” by the American Military
A democracy enthusiast would anticipate that the Christian community would be thriving now that a “democratic” Afghan government was installed by American military power after the ouster in 2001 of the Taliban regime. After all, Afghanistan’s constitution, adopted in 2004, guarantees freedom of religion. But Afghan Christians today are compelled to worship in secret lest they be accused of apostasy for converting to Christianity from Islam, a charge punishable by death. Such persecution no doubt will grow after 2014, when American soldiers are largely gone and Washington is less able to influence the government in Kabul.
Across a troublesome border, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are wielded more and more aggressively against Christians by a weak civilian government propped up by Pakistan’s Islamized military and society. Christians, who make up only about 2 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people, are living under growing fear of persecution and economic discrimination. The assassination in March 2011 of the only Christian minister in Pakistan, who bravely criticized harsh blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam, has chilled the willingness of secular and liberal Pakistanis to speak out.
Iraq’s open warfare against its Christian community has led to a mass exodus of Christians from that country since the 2003 American and British military invasion ousted Saddam Hussein, whose repugnant regime was nevertheless relatively hospitable to Christians. Iraqi Christians are severely embattled by Sunni extremists linked to Al Qaeda and are discriminated against by Iraq’s Shia majority, largely in control of the government. Incidents such as the 2010 suicide bombing of Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, which killed fifty Christians and two priests, have terrified Iraq’s Christian population, which has dwindled to less than 500,000 from between 800,000 and 1.4 million in the time of Saddam.
Sieges against Christians in Lands Coping with the Arab Spring