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Global patterns of attacks on church buildings

20 October 2016

What is particularly striking is not just the similarities between the attacks on churches in northern Spain and those in southern France, but the similarities of attacks in both countries to those on churches in the Middle East. In 2004 a  targeted campaign of church bombings began in Iraq which has now destroyed well over a hundred churches and spread to nearby countries such as Syria, where Islamic State have deliberately destroyed large numbers of church buildings. In Egypt, as we have repeatedly reported, following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013 there has been a whole spate of attacks on Egyptian Christians with more than 80 churches attacked and set on fire. Mobs of up to 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters have set fire to churches in Egypt’s Minya province; attacks which are still continuing. Even when congregations have been forced to meet in tents, Islamists have burnt down the tents they worship in. Nor are such attacks confined to the Middle East. Earlier this year two churches in Pakistan were burnt down by Islamists. Last year Islamists set fire to seven churches in north-west Tanzania because Christians opposed the introduction of sharia courts, with more churches there burnt down this year.

The reason for attacks on church buildings is that the dhimmi status which sharia imposes on Christians forbids the construction of church buildings once Islamic rule has been established. Destroying church buildings and seeking to prevent them being rebuilt therefore puts pressure on Christians either to convert to Islam or leave the area. This has been happening to Christians in the Middle East at various times since the seventh century. Western governments need to recognise that this anti-Christian violence is no longer confined to the Middle East, but is now spreading across the world – including Europe.