Rise of Islamic groups bringing wave of intimidation, persecution
JERUSALEM – As Islamic groups gain power throughout the Middle East, Christians here fear for their safety and are concerned about their role with regard to the future of the volatile region.
Gemayel, a senior member of the Phalange party, said he received information last week about a specific assassination plot against him.
“I just got the information from the head of security, and he asked me not to go to a specific place, because he had information that something was going to happen there,” he said.
While the exact nature of the purported assassination plot remains unclear, Gemayel, who descends from a historic Lebanese Christian family, said he is taking the new threats seriously.
His older brother, Pierre, was a member of parliament and a government minister before his assassination Nov. 21, 2006. His uncle, former President-elect Bashir Gemayel, also was assassinated.
Christians have been a minority in numerous Middle East countries for several decades, facing routine mistreatment and occasional persecution for much of that time.
However, in the last year, the so-called Arab Spring has sparked intensified concern, with reports of an increase in attacks against Christians in some countries here.
Islamists already have ascended to power in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Yemen and other countries face similar prospects, with Muslim Brotherhood-allied group consisting of much of the opposition that stands to gain from any power-sharing system.
Since the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Coptic Christians have been facing a wave of Islamic attacks, including murders, rapes, church burnings and institutional intimidation. Some reports say more than 200,000 Copts already have fled their homes.
When Copts attempted to protest last October, security forces reportedly fired at the protesters, killing 24 and wounding more than300 people.
Last weekend, the Global Post quoted numerous Syrian Christians, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressing deep concern that if the secular regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad collapses, Islamists may gain power and persecute Christians.
Middle East Christians routinely speak to news media anonymously for fear of Islamic reprisals.
President Obama and the international community called on Assad to step aside amid reports he has been violently suppressing a revolution targeting his regime. Assad has accused armed groups, including Islamic organizations, of sparking the revolution.
Underscoring the immediacy of the threat, just yesterday Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios Lahham III called for an Arab Christian-Muslim summit in the wake of the developments in the Arab world.
“These commitments apply especially for the situation in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq,” said Lahham.
Lahham said the inter-Christian summit was also needed to decide on the Arab Christians’ upcoming role in the wake of historical developments in the Arab world.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in a Newsweek article titled “The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World,” warned “Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion.”
“It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm,” wrote Ali.
Ali reported that in recent years “the violent oppression of Christian minorities has become the norm in Muslim-majority nations stretching from West Africa and the Middle East to South Asia and Oceania.”
“The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop,” Ali wrote. “Nothing less than the fate of Christianity –and ultimately of all religious minorities – in the Islamic world is at stake.”
Christians warned: Accept Islamic law
Christian persecution escalated even before the “Arab Spring.”
Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, the coastal territory’s 3,000-strong Christian community has been facing rampant persecution.
One Gaza Christian leader told WND that Christians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip held only small, quiet Christmas celebrations in December after local leaders received warnings for the fifth year in a row from Muslim groups against any public display of Christianity.
Islamists have been suspected in a string of anti-Christian attacks, including the bombing of a Christian bookstore in November 2007 and the murder of the store’s manager, local Christian resident Rami Ayyad.
After Hamas’ rise to power, Christians in Gaza repeatedly have been targeted. The Islamic extremist group Jihadia Salafiya is suspected of many of the Islamist attacks, such as a May 2007 shooting against a United Nations school in Gaza after it allowed boys and girls to participate in the same sporting event. One person was killed in the attack.
In the case of Ayyad, who managed the only Christian bookstore in Gaza, his body was discovered riddled with gunshot and stab wounds. Just before his murder, Ayyad, a Baptist, was publicly accused by Abu Islam’s group of engaging in missionary activities. Ayyad’s bookstore, owned by the Palestinian Bible Society, was firebombed in April 2007, after which, he told relatives, he received numerous death threats from Islamists.
WND quoted witnesses stating Ayyad was publicly tortured a few blocks from his store before he was shot to death.
The witnesses said they saw three armed men, two of whom were wearing masks, beat Ayyad repeatedly with clubs and the butts of their guns while they accused him of attempting to spread Christianity in Gaza. The witnesses said that after sustaining the beating, Ayyad was shot by all three men.
Just after Hamas assumed control, Sheik Abu Saqer, leader of Jihadia Salafiya , told WND in an interview that Christians can continue living safely in the Gaza Strip only if they accept Islamic law, including a ban on alcohol and on women roaming publicly without proper head coverings.
The militant leader said Christians in Gaza who engage in “missionary activity” will be “dealt with harshly.”
“I expect our Christian neighbors to understand the new Hamas rule means real changes. They must be ready for Islamic rule if they want to live in peace in Gaza,” said Saqer.
“Jihadia Salafiya and other Islamic movements will ensure Christian schools and institutions show publicly what they are teaching to be sure they are not carrying out missionary activity. No more alcohol on the streets. All women, including non-Muslims, need to understand they must be covered at all times while in public,” Saqer told WND.
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