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Danger zone

The lines of Christian persecution are falling in more unpleasant places

Issue: "How Mark Souder fell," June 19, 2010

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting The Wall Street Journal's new headquarters near Rockefeller Center-an airy, bright, multilevel news factory housed in New York's midtown. It's a welcome reply to Muhammed Atta and the others who left the paper's lower Manhattan newsroom in a hail of broken glass, ash, concrete dust, and smoke as the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11. I reveled in the newsroom hum and the sense of moving forward that the one-year-old space in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. headquarters represents.

But not so fast. A memorial sculpture to Daniel Pearl, the Journal's South Asia bureau chief killed by Atta's cohorts in 2002, currently sits against a back wall of its seventh-floor newsroom. Dedicated "to shine the light of good reporting into the dark corners of the world," as one of its three plaques reads, it once graced the Journal's lobby but now is nearly unnoticed. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who told a U.S. military panel, "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan," still awaits trial. And Pakistan, and in particular Karachi, houses a growing rather than diminishing Islamic terror threat. Authorities there recently arrested two men linked to Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, and The New York Times has described the city of 18 million as a haven for terrorists. Following interviews with the militants themselves, it said, "The infrastructure that propels the insurgency-recruits, money, hiding places, and ideological underpinning-is embedded across this grubby city on the Arabian Sea."

I believe Karachi may be the most dangerous place in the world to live as a Christian believer right now. In recent years over 5 million Pashtuns have migrated to the city from the tribal areas of the north. Most Taliban are Pashtuns, and many of the tribal areas practice Shariah law, even if the people there are not radicalized Taliban members. Christians in the city are so cautious that if a Muslim asks them for a Bible they will likely direct him to a bookstore rather than risk what may come of handing over one. In recent months I've heard from two families who landed in trouble for that simple gesture; one was forced to leave the city altogether after militants began following and threatening family members. Christians in Pakistan legally have far fewer rights than Muslims-going to the police to report such incidents can itself become a crime.

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Ten years ago I remember describing for colleagues a faultline running through Africa and Asia, where Christianity pushing its way up from the global south met Islam bearing down from the north. We should pay close attention to places at the line, I said, where persecution of Christians would become most violent. Sudan was one of those places, and at the time I believed it perhaps the hardest place in the world to live and be a Christian. I wrote more than a dozen stories about their persecution in 2000-2001 and crisscrossed southern Sudan just weeks before 9/11 talking to victims of terrorism and seeing evidence of mass starvation that stemmed from religious oppression.

That was before most Americans had heard of Osama bin Laden, whose abandoned outposts in Sudan I had passed. Today we are overdue in revising the faultlines-and admitting that, where America has gone to war against the militant forces of radical Islam, Christians are suffering: in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Now we have watched as violence has drained Baghdad, Basra, and the Nineveh province in Iraq of Christians. Targeted crimes have made it nearly impossible for Christian organizations to work in Afghanistan. And Pakistan is becoming a no-man's land for even its own longstanding Christians.

Going to war is costly, and affords no luxury to manage every contingency. But no other country has championed the rights of minorities-and particularly persecuted Christian believers-like the United States. We should not forget them when the battle turns hot.
Email Mindy Belz


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