The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Persecution of Christians: American Foreign Policy Will Have To Respond

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The worldwide rise in anti-Christian persecution is not often noted by the MSM, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly. This week two new stories of persecution hit the web. Christianity Today reports that Hindu extremists broke into a Christian prayer meeting in India and beat up the attendees with clubs and iron rods. The attackers accused the pastors of using force and coercion to convert Indians to Christianity, an accusation the pastors vigorously deny. And in Syria, Fr. François Murad became the latest victim of rebel militas, some of whom are systematically targeting Christians for persecution and death. At NRO, Nina Shea comments:

As for the larger [Syria] conflict, the Christians are caught in the middle. The churches have not allied with the Assad regime. They have no armed protector, inside or outside the country, and they have no militias of their own. But they are not simply suffering collateral damage. They are being deliberately targeted in a religious purification campaign.

It’s important to note of the agressors in these cases that some are Islamic and some are Hindu. This is a reminder for those who think that only one religion is the cause of the world’s troubles and we should also, gratefully, note that the large majority of adherents to both faiths have never committed an act of religious violence in their lives.

Each case tells us something about its respective country as well. Fr. Murad’s death in Syria is a reminder of how few good options there are left for our policy towards the country. Years of US inaction as the country deteriorated now likely means little hope for many Syrian Christians. The White House is likely to be haunted by the specter of many more victims. Iraqi Christians were caught up in crossfire in the Iraq war when Bush was in the White House; Syrian Christians are now getting crushed during the Obama administration, and as US policy in Syria now consists mostly of handwringing over the deepening horror, things seem unlikely to improve.

India is a different story. For 1,000 years, Indian Hindus have felt pressure from Islam, and there are hundreds of millions of Muslims today in lands that were once largely Hindu. Christianity has an even longer presence in India, but during the British Raj there were fears that British missionaries used their political connections with the country’s rulers to gain converts in dubious ways. The appeal of both Christianity and Islam in India is often to lower castes and to tribal peoples; Hindus often believe (with greater or less reason in particular cases) that missionaries offering inducements (food, health care, education) to converts are essentially forcing helpless people to change their religion in order to live. Much of India was under Islamic rule before the British came; Hindus have long memories and they are determined to hold on to their faith and their values. Pakistani-supported Islamic terrorism has deepened a sense of Hinduism under siege.

For many, Hindu religion and Indian national identity go together; Gandhi wanted a secular Indian state, but not all Hindus then or since agreed with him. The BJP, one of India’s two leading political parties, is rooted in India’s nationalist and religious right; while some BJP leaders and members are mostly interested in economic reform and modernization, others are linked, sometimes closely, to radical Hindu-nationalist groups.

The Hindu right has a violent side and these are not the first such attacks. Anti-Christian violence reached a fever pitch in 2008 in Orissa, and only slowed down after the BJP lost local elections. India’s next government could be a BJP-led one, and some of the political allies of the religious extremists will have some significant influence. Even if the mainstream media continues to downplay stories of Christian persecution (which it probably will), religious media in the US is widely read and follows this story much more closely. Our foreign policy cannot be insulated from the political consequences of stories like this one, and if the pace of attacks increase, India’s friends in Congress and the State Department will have a harder time keeping relations on track.

Americans like to think that modernization and economic progress make religious and ethnic tensions fade away. That may be true in the long run, but often the stressful social and political changes associated with rapid economic development make intercommunal tensions worse. It was only after the Industrial Revolution was well under way, for example, that waves of nationalism and ethnic hate flamed across Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

India is an even more complicated and diverse country than the United States, and Indian society is passing through some revolutionary changes. Both Indian and US governments will have to think carefully about how religious tensions inside India can be kept from complicating a bilateral relationship of the greatest importance to both.

To some, it will seem odd and anachronistic that 21st century American diplomats will be dealing with issues of religious persecution. But history grinds on, and humanity’s religious and tribal affiliations don’t seem to be fading away.

[Image of Saint Elias church in Qusayr courtesy Getty Images]

Published on July 4, 2013 12:30 pm
  • lukelea

    Don’t forget China.

    • Jim__L

      As far as China goes, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a “Constantine moment” in our lifetimes.

  • Jim__L

    Random observations:

    Islamic martyrs kill for their religion. Christian martyrs just die for theirs. Anyone who claims that there is some kind of equivalency between the movements ignores this basic truth.

    As for Hindu complaints — there is a distinct difference between saving people through generosity, and “forcing” them to convert.

    Hindu violence against Christians is not new. Tipu Sultan was famous for slaughtering tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Christians, including atrocities comparable to the Bataan Death March.

    Unwillingness to help people in foreign countries and ignoring their suffering simply because those people are Christian is bigotry and hypocrisy at its ugliest. The Mainstream Media should be ashamed, and would be, if it understood what shame was.

    • Tom

      The problem with the MSM is that it is really quite provincial. Ergo, having grown up in an environment where Christians are not persecuted, and are perceived as the powerful, they assume that the same situation obtains elsewhere.
      It doesn’t, of course.

    • Jaldhar H. Vyas

      Um, Tipu Sultan was a Muslim. Can we stop feeling persecuted long enough to get basic facts straight?

      Ironically, Tipu Sultan is also in the doghouse with the Hindu Right for slaughtering tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Hindus. But the thing is that he was contending with the dying remnants of the Mughal empire, local Hindu rivals, and expanding Western colonial encroachment. Ruthlessness kept his kingdom intact (for a while) and survival explains his actions more than any grand religious design.

      Moderns, even religious ones, fail to comprehend how much religion was and is entwined with politics.

    • Jaldhar H. Vyas

      As for the generosity of the missionaries. Yes, some of the mainstream churches do good work. But the explosive growth in Indian Christianity (as elsewhere in the global South) is amongst Pentacostals and they are not offering schools and hospitals but casting out demons and speaking in tongues. They are as fanatical and antisocial as any jihadist though I must say their death count is lower. So they’ve got that going for them which is nice.

      • f1b0nacc1

        So in fact they are NOT as antisocial as any jihadist (as evidenced by the lower death count), yes?

        • Jaldhar H. Vyas

          Just not killing people is a rather low threshold for sociability wouldn’t you say?

          • f1b0nacc1

            Yes of course, other than the killings, the incohate violence, and the aggression against any non-believer, the jihadis and the Pentacostals are exactly alike…

  • http://foobarista.blogspot.com foobarista

    Also, agnostics and atheists should be concerned about this sort of thing. Beyond the simple human rights issues, atheists and agnostics are just as much “religious minorities” as anyone else in such places, and if they go after Christians in X-majority places, they certainly won’t spare “godless heathens”.

    • Jim__L

      “Godless heathens” have a far easier time… they just keep quiet, maybe go along to get along. Unless they’re actively proselytizing atheism or agnosticism, only the loud and stubborn ones will be noticed.

      Christians, on the other hand, have identifying behaviors (forming churches, reading the Bible, spreading the Word) that can be detected and targeted, making them vulnerable.

      Of course, this all assumes that people aren’t simply being targeted on the basis of a label that may or may not have any real meaning. That sort of arbitrary friction might actually be more common than anything else.

  • J R Yankovic

    “To some, it will seem odd and anachronistic that 21st century American diplomats will be dealing with issues of religious persecution. But history grinds on, and humanity’s religious and tribal affiliations don’t seem to be fading away.”

    Extremely well-put. Indeed if anything, I wonder if our newer, more contentious and confrontational modes of religious expression aren’t actually getting stronger. As distinct from those older wishy-washy modes that tried to “convert” by spineless methods like love, example and persuasion. But if so, do you suppose one reason why our “hotter” religious affiliations in particular DON’T seem to be fading away – and esp. those that are consciously non-tribal and “anti-historic” (Wahhabism, anyone?) – is that they’re becoming ever more rapidly globalized, modernized, militarized, etc? All of which developments would be, to my mind, very sensible ways of encouraging our great religions’ adherents to think of themselves much less as citizens of the countries they reside in, much more as global political constituencies – or political parties? or even
    businesses and corporations? – in their own right, cutting clean across national boundaries and largely independent of national jurisdictions. Which again makes eminently good sense, it seems to me, if your goal is to “purify” your faith by pretending it has no history or historical context (e.g., by trying to obliterate the 13-some centuries dividing your modern Islamic practice from that of the Prophet).

    Nor does the fun stop there. Angry politicized religion can also SEEM like a very good way to ensure against interference by those bad old secular territorial nation-states (like Turkey c. Ataturk). Devotion to which latter has no doubt been the sole cause, not just
    of ALL religious persecutions and misunderstandings, but of all our wars,
    dysfunctional economies, and disordered natural environments (though frankly,
    40 years into the Green Movement I still haven’t figured out just how one expects to preserve one’s countryside by hating one’s country). Then again, as far as abridgement of religious freedom is concerned, my impression is that nation-states tend to become most intolerant, MOST totalitarian, once the power-reins have been seized by a single political party or other rabidly ideological minority. In secular societies there are, of course, many ways of stifling religious expression. But in general I don’t think multi-party representative governments have been among the most effective.

    “Americans like to think that modernization and economic progress make religious and ethnic tensions fade away. That may be true in the long run . . .”

    We can only hope; so far the early returns aren’t promising. I tend to be un naïf in these as in most other matters. It may be that secular nationalism everywhere, even in the most culturally cohesive or homogeneous societies – e.g., the Scandinavian – is fast becoming a spent force. It’s possible, too, that in all sorts of religiously diverse countries, the future freedom of minorities will be best guaranteed by something more like, say, an Erdoganist than a Kemalist model. Right now, for some reason, large and volatile crowds in both Turkey and Egypt don’t seem to be exactly holding their breath in anticipation. (Perhaps they’re better judges of these trends than I am.) Finally, in other religiously diverse environments – and assuming present trends are any bellwether – my hunch is that South Asian Hindus and Buddhists will continue borrowing more than a page or two from the jihadist playbook (kudos to the Meadians for some superb coverage of these developments).

    Just how all this dynamism is supposed to work – how, for instance, it’s going to make our most stubbornly-interconnected globe a more (peaceably) governable place – is, of course, anyone’s guess. For the life of me I can’t imagine how arming our once-quietly-law-abiding religions to the teeth, and then having them engage in arms races with their
    national governments, is going to preserve either the freedom of worship of the one, or the freedom and security of the other. To me it all seems much more like a standing – and highly unequivocal – invitation for some mode or other of supranational governance. And one that I don’t suppose will be any too delicate in respecting either religious freedom (certainly not the armed-and-contentious
    kind) or local, regional or national autonomy. In fact, about the only freedoms I can imagine it zealously upholding are those of the indispensable creatures we make – our corporate and other organizational “persons” – much more than those of the expendable creatures we’ve been made.

    All in all a necessary and timely post. The idea that jihadism may one day become an equal opportunity deception among the world’s religions is especially, I think, a point worth emphasizing. At the same time, given the increasingly miserable state of Christians in places like India and Syria, could one blame THEM if it did?

  • Ray Kam

    The comparison between India and Syria verges on the ridiculous. How one can compare a sectarian civil war in the Middle East with an imperfect democracy in South Asia is beyond me. Hindus are not out to get Christians. If they were, they would start with their Defence Minister, and a good chunk of the governing party. Moreover, the writer should have gone back a bit further, and perhaps studied the entry of European Christianity into South Asia. Inquisition anyone? Hindus are quite indifferent to Christians, given the “ummah” problem that they face. If there is any issue, it between a culture with a live and let live attitude facing Western funded missionary churches engaging in aggressive missionary activities, which involve denigrating local cultural and religious believes, more than focussing on Christian values, such as tolerance, compassion and generosity.

    Perhaps Mead should focus on Pakistan if he is looking for a fleeing Christian population. Blasphemy law anyone?

  • Chris Micheals

    So many Christians, so few lions. The poor Christians are complaining they get persecuted? What about all the centuries they’ve persecuted people and still do. Bunch of crybabies

  • Miguel

    The violence in India is funded by Hindus living in the United States and other Western countries.

    The VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council) is listed as a charitable organization in the US and sends funds donated from wealthy Hindus to India to fund anti-Christian persecution.

    People need to understand that Hinduism is anti-Christian. A classic example of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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  • Miguel

    BULLSHIT. You are a right-wing Hindu trying to distort the truth online.

    Hindus are completely anti-Western and anti-Christian.

    Readers are encouraged to youtube ‘Persecution of Christians in India’ and reach their own conclusions.

  • Miguel

    Are you using the past to justify the present?

    Are you saying that it’s alright to persecute Christians today because of events in the past?

    Do you support violence against other human beings? You sound remarkably like a right-wing Hindu posing as a Westerner. This is a classic Hindutva terrorist tactic.

  • Kavanna

    Overwhelming, Christians historically have persecuted other Christians. That’s the model of Christian religious violence. The Muslim model is aggression directed outward, generally at non-Muslims. Just a historical fact.

  • Kavanna

    And it’s getting more provincial every day.

  • Kavanna

    Actually, @Ray is right, there’s no comparison. It just started innocently as a listing of various forms of persecution that Christians suffer for their faith.

    There is a major difference between official policies of repression and persecution and the social imperfections of a secular democracy.