Fifteen years ago last Sunday the 9/11 attacks happened. They were not the first Islamist attacks on the US or even the first on US soil. But, by killing 2,977 people, they were the first to create mass casualties on a scale the USA had not witnessed since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941.
However, long before this happened another large scale tragedy with similar causes had been unfolding which the West had been quietly ignoring. This was the increasing persecution of Christians in Muslim majority contexts, something that Barnabas Fund had been reporting since 1989. These attacks on Christians have massively increased since 9/11, particularly following western military interventions.
The US led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was followed by a massive increase in threats, kidnappings and murder of Christians. In 2004, even before the emergence of IS, the bombings of churches started, with well over a hundred churches and monasteries now destroyed. Consequently an estimated 80% of the Christian population previously estimated at 1.5 million have now fled. The emergence of civil war in Syria in 2011 led to jihadist groups either emerging there or, as in the case of what is now IS, crossing the border from Iraq. What happened to Christians in Iraq is now happening to Christians in Syria - arguably with even greater brutality. Similar proportions of Syria’s previously 2.2 million Christians have now fled genocide at the hands of IS and other jihadist groups. There is now a serious risk that in the next few years Christianity could quite literally be wiped out in countries such as Syria, which appears to be the intention of IS and other jihadists. Meanwhile in Northern Nigeria and surrounding countries another genocide of Christians is happening, although no-one appears to call it by that name yet, even though Boko Haram is now killing more people each year than even IS. Both Boko Haram which has pledged allegiance to IS and Muslim Fulani tribesmen have been targeting Christian villages and churches, killing, burning and in the case of Boko Haram enslaving them. Boko Haram reintroduced slavery in 2014 claiming that enslavement of non-Muslims was allowed by shari’a. Within months the practice was copied by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, who subsequently produced a price list for Christian and Yazidi female slaves. While even in countries such as Pakistan that have not experienced open war, the number of attacks on Christians has increased from 5 in the year after 9/11, to up to 27 attacks a year now, including several large scale attacks such as the bombing of All Saints Church, Peshawar in 2013 in which more than 80 Christians were killed. Yet despite this western governments are largely failing to react to the plight of Christians.
This is not something new. Christians in the Middle East have been subject to centuries of persecution, including periodic genocides. There have in fact been at least nine such genocides in Syria and the neighbouring countries since 1843. What is new though, is that now there is a realistic possibility that Christianity will be eradicated from large parts of the Middle East where it has existed since New Testament times.
Although fifteen years ago the West, particularly the USA insisted that “the world didn’t change on 9/11”, the reality is that it did. The 9/11 attacks inspired Islamists around the world to think they could take on a superpower – and in their eyes “win”. The number of people killed every year through terrorism is now ten times the level that it was before 9/11. The Global Terrorism Index 2015 shows that in the year 2000 3,329 people were killed in terrorism incidents worldwide. While in 2014, the last year for which full figures have so far been compiled, 32,658 people were killed. As the 2014 figures represented an 80% increase on the previous year, the number currently being killed is almost certainly significantly higher. Around 4 out of 5 of those lives lost were in just five counties – Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan – where jihadist groups attack both military and civilian targets, including Christians.
One of the key reasons the West is so far struggling to contain, let alone defeat this threat is that it has largely failed to develop a counter narrative demonstrating the superiority of its own values to those of Islamists. As The American Spectator observed on the anniversary of 9/11, the West has mistakenly believed “we could win the war without attacking the ideology of the enemy.” In fact, having abandoned much of the Judaeo-Christian foundations of western civilisation in favour of a “diversity” of values most western countries are now unsure of what their own values are, still less confident enough to defend what in the past were regarded as historic national values such as freedom of religion. At the same time this official embrace of diversity has led many political leaders such as President Obama to go through considerable contortions to avoid identifying the ideology behind the terrorism – as particular strands of Islam.
It is this failure which has contributed towards a further, at least equally disturbing failure. The failure to recognise that one of the consequences of the growth of Islamist terrorism has been a massive increase in the persecution of Christians, the great majority of which has been at the hands of Islamists.
The West must wake up before it is too late.