Christmas for the Vulnerable Christians of the World
Source: Al Jazeera YouTube
One of the most important days in the Christian holiday canon, Christmas is celebrated by the devout, the lapsed, and the unbelieving alike as a time of gift-giving, decorating, and shared cheer. However, many of the worlds Christians, minorities in their communities, continue to face persecution as religious-extremist, nationalist, and other reactionary forces gain footholds around the world. From Indonesia to Egypt, religiously diverse societies have experienced increased sectarian tensions as parallel forces—anti-Christian sentiment and Islamophobia—have disrupted what was once stable co-existence. This roundup takes a look at recent developments in the plight faced by some of the most vulnerable Christians around the world.
The deteriorating situation in Syria between pro- and anti-government forces has left the country’s Christian population caught in the crossfire: though long dependent on the government for support and protection, they have been caught in the crossfire between governmental war crimes, anti-government absolutism, and the apocalyptic nihilism of the Islamic State. Many Syrian Christians have fled communities under attack and the prospect of life (or often death) under Islamic State forces, leaving many Western nations in a political conundrum as loud anti-immigrant voices deny refuge to coreligionists.
- “‘Targeted for Elimination’” (SBS)
- “No Christmas for Syrian Christians in Turkey” (POLITICO)
- “Christmas in Aleppo: Christians Feel God Is With Them in City UN Calls ‘Hell’” (The Christian Post)
- “Most Syrian Christians Aren’t Backing Assad (or the Rebels)” (Chatham House)
- “We Visited A Syrian Refugee Family As They Prepared For Christmas In The UK” (BuzzFeed News)
- “Syrian Christians call Australia home after generations of diaspora” (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Recent gains by Shiite militia and other anti-Islamic State forces have received widespread international attention, but Iraqi Christians in the region have found little to return to in the wake of protracted violence. Since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq has decreased from 1.5 million to less than 400,000, many having fled metastasizing violence in the country or having fallen to it themselves.
- “For Liberated Iraqi Christians, Still a Bleak Christmas” (The New York Times)
- “Fearful Christmas in Baghdad after attacks on Christians” (Reuters)
- “For Iraq’s Christians, Christmas cheer tinged with despair” (The Associated Press)
- “Iraqi Christians celebrate Christmas in Irbil” (BBC)
- “Muslim businessman buys giant Christmas tree to show solidarity with Baghdad’s Christians” (The Independent)
- “Their town now liberated, Iraqi Christians talk of life under ISIS” (The Christian Science Monitor)
Although always subject to insecurity as a minority comprising 10% of the Egyptian population, Egyptian Copts have seen threats against their communities increase in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring. Beyond violence, Copts have long been marginalized from power, with few holding positions of authority and textbooks excluding the contributions of the community to the country.
- Egypt News | Christians (Outlas)
- “Christians and churches in Egypt: Aggression from all sides” (Mada Masr)
- “The Actual War on Christians” (The Atlantic)
- “Egypt’s Coptic Christians are stuck between ISIS and an indifferent government” (Quartz Africa)
- “Egypt’s Cruelty to Christians“* (The New York Times)
- “The Predicament of Egypt’s Copts“* (PublicOrthodoxy.org)
- “Egypt’s Christians in the cross-hairs“* (Al Jazeera)
An under-recognized presence in the clamorous international discourse on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestinian Christians continue to keep the holy city of Bethlehem, among other sites.
- “Christians worry ‘Silent Night’ may soon refer to their community in Bethlehem” (The Times of Israel)
- “Evangelicals side with Israel. That’s hurting Palestinian Christians.“* (The Washington Post)
- “Israeli rabbis launch war on Christmas tree” (Al Jazeera)
- Palestinian Christians (Wikipedia)
The controversial blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese, Christian governor has sparked tensions between Muslims and Christians in the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Hardliners have been emboldened to pressure Christians to avoid public celebrations of Christmas in more conservative regions of the country, which has left members of the Christian community worried that their coexistence with the Muslim majority in a country known for its pluralist, multicultural society could be under threat.
- “Indonesian Christians on Edge at Ahok Trial” (Voice of America)
- “Christians keep low profile in Aceh” (The Jakarta Post)
- “Hardline Islamists push agenda as blasphemy case ignites Indonesia” (Channel NewsAsia)
- “The Blasphemy Trial of Jakarta’s Governor Puts Indonesian Secularism in a Shockingly Poor Light” (TIME)
The Chinese Community Party has begun cracking down on public displays of religiosity, including a campaign targeting crosses displayed atop the churches of China’s substantial Christian minority. The divide between officially and unofficially recognized churches has grown, and the growing numbers of congregants in unofficial “house churches” have fueled China’s fears of foreign “intrusions” into Chinese culture.
- China News | Christians (Outlas)
- “Atheist China could have largest number of Christians in the world by 2030” (The Hindustan Times)
- “The warming relations between China and the Vatican seem to have gone cold” (Quartz)
- “Chinese Communist Party readies crackdown on Christianity” (ABC Australia, October 2016)
- “Why many Christians in China have turned to underground churches” (BBC, March 2016)
Although to a lesser degree than Muslims in the country, Christians in Myanmar have been subject to marginalization amidst the upsurge in reactionary nationalist forces, largely driven by conservative Buddhist groups. More than 100,000 have been displaced amidst ongoing persecution.
- “Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma” (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom)
- “Burmese Christians in India and a possible clue to why Europe’s Muslim refugees are converting to Christianity” (Firstpost)
An absolute Islamic monarchy, Brunei is home to a Christian community that has recently seen its rights to public religious expression curtailed. The sultan ruled that Christmas should be celebrated privately among Christian communities and that Muslims were prohibited from participating in public expressions of the holiday’s celebration.
- “Sultan of Brunei bans Christmas ‘because it could damage faith of Muslims’” (The Daily Telegraph, December 2015)
- “Muslims prohibited from celebrating Christmas: Imams” (The Borneo Bulletin, December 2015)
* Commentary, the content of which may not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial focus of Outlas.