- (Reuters/David McNew)
A British think tank has released a lengthy report claiming that militant Islam is the greatest existential threat to Middle Eastern Christianity, bringing Christian communities in the region "close to extinction."
The London-based Civitas, also known as the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, published the report in December. "Christianity is in serious danger of being wiped out in its biblical heartlands because of Islamic oppression," reads a statement from the group issued Sunday.
"But Western politicians and media largely ignore the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the wider world because they are afraid they will be accused of racism."
Titled "Christianophobia" and written by reporter and Religion Editor for The Times Literary Supplement Rupert Shortt, the report details the persecution of Christians in Burma, China, Egypt, India, Iraq, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
"It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree. A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers," wrote Shortt.
"Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood. The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity."
While noting the large-scale persecution of Christians in societies that are Communist, Buddhist, or Hindu, Shortt stressed the growing impact of intolerance in Islamic countries.
"In the large area between Morocco and Pakistan, for example, there is scarcely a country in which church life operates without restrictions. Syria has been one of the exceptions until now," wrote Shortt.
"The prognosis for the rest of the Middle East is hardly encouraging: there is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands. Anthony O'Mahony of Heythrop College,
London, echoes other scholars in estimating that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century."
In the past, Civitas has published other works focusing on contemporary issues involving Islam. In 2006, the think tank published a book by Caroline Cox and John Marks titled The West, Islam and Islamism: Is ideological Islam compatible with liberal democracy?
In a December 2006 statement released with the announcement of the book's publication, Civitas said that "better understanding is needed between West and Islam."
"To this end we need to be able to conduct an open and mutually respectful dialogue," it said. "However, the situation is complicated by the way in which some defenders of Islam have tried to shut down the sort of full and free discussion which we expect in Western societies to be able to have about all systems of belief by accusing critics of 'Islamophobia'…"