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'Tis the season

"'Tis the season" Continued...

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

Elam Ministries reported that Iranian police arrested at least 25 Christians in Tehran and other cities the day after Christmas. The group reported that special security officers entered the Christians' homes while they slept, handcuffing and imprisoning them without legal representation. The report said authorities wrested at least two married couples from their infant children.

The highest death toll from violence came in Nigeria, where armed men and bombers killed over 40 victims in Christmas Eve attacks across the country. Authorities reported that suspected Muslim radicals killed at least six in attacks on churches (see sidebar), and 35 more in bombings near Christmas shoppers.

Even moderate Muslims weren't immune: In Pakistan, a bodyguard killed Salman Taseer on Jan. 4 (see p. 34). The governor of the Punjab province had spoken against the Islamic country's blasphemy laws, and called for the pardon of a Christian woman sentenced to die for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Thousands of Pakistanis attended his funeral, but supporters of his assassin also gathered at an Islamabad courtroom to shower the gunman with rose petals.

Nina Shea, a Hudson Institute senior fellow and USCIRF commissioner, says the multi-country violence and terrorism signals a strengthening of al-Qaeda, and that governmental failures to staunch extremism in places like Pakistan and Egypt make the problem worse: "The whole culture becomes radicalized when it's allowed to progress."

Shea says the U.S. should more directly confront Egypt-a key ally in the Middle East-about violence against Christians: "I think it's time to condition aid on the protection of this minority."

President Barack Obama, who called for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim world during a 2009 speech in Cairo, condemned the Egyptian attack: "The perpetrators of this attack were clearly targeting Christian worshippers. . . . They must be brought to justice for this barbaric and heinous act." Human-rights groups will be watching closely to see if the Egyptian government breaks its pattern and prosecutes perpetrators, and whether the United States will hold Egypt accountable.

In the meantime, Middle Eastern Christians are coping with the ongoing threats and dangers: Black-clad Copts returned to church for somber services, even with blood still splattered on the walls.

Elam Ministries reported that one of the Iranian Christians arrested after Christmas managed to leave a voicemail message for friends. "Unfortunately early this morning the authorities came to our homes. They arrested us and many other believers," he said. "I want to ask you to pray for us. We are sure God will never leave us or forsake us. . . . Sorry for giving you bad news over Christmas, but I believe God will do something for us."

A killing year

Horror unfolded quickly at Victory Baptist Church in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on Christmas Eve: A gang of nearly 30 attackers armed with guns and knives stormed the church, killing two young men practicing for a late-night carol service.

A handful of thugs burst into the adjacent home of the church's pastor, 37-year-old Bulus Marwa, dragging him into the street and shooting him to death. The gang killed two passers-by before torching the church and the pastor's home, and fleeing the scene. An hour later, three men attacked the Church of Christ in Nigeria across town, killing a 60-year-old security guard. Earlier in the day, in the central city of Jos, attackers detonated bombs in markets full of last-minute Christmas shoppers. Authorities said 40 died in the initial violence and perhaps 40 more in subsequent rioting.

The attacks offered a gruesome end to a year full of violence in Africa's most populous country. Clashes between Muslims and Christians in the country's so-called Middle Belt killed hundreds, including more than 300 Christians slaughtered by Muslim militants in March.

Authorities believe that Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic group in Nigeria with ties to al-Qaeda, is responsible for the church attacks. In an internet posting, the group also claimed responsibility for the Jos bombings.

From his home in the capital city of Abuja, Christian leader Olaolu Oladeji said violence in the Middle Belt by forces from the Muslim north have a central purpose: "They want to come and displace those who are Christians, so that the Muslims can take over and Islamize the region."

Oladeji is the Nigerian director for Bible League International, an evangelical organization that supports local churches by training pastors and providing Bibles. Oladeji said many moderate Muslims have supported Christians, but extremists pose a constant threat. He said while some Christians in the region are fearful, many others are courageous: "They want to stay in the land and defend their faith."

Oladeji hopes that Christians will pray for Nigerian believers, especially as presidential elections approach in April. Some worry that political instability could bring more violence. But the Christian leader said that security isn't ultimately grounded in police forces or government protection: "Our hope is in God. We know that except the Lord keeps the house, the watchman keeps it in vain."

Holiday toll

Dec. 24: Maiduguri, Nigeria

• 6 church workers killed in attacks

Dec. 24: Jos, Nigeria

• 32 killed and 80-100 wounded when three bombs exploded among Christmas shoppers

Dec. 26: Tehran, Iran

• 25 Christians arrested by government special security officers

Dec. 30: Baghdad, Iraq

• 2 killed and 20 wounded in bombings of 10 Christian homes

Dec. 31: Alexandria, Egypt

• 23 killed in bomb blast at Saints Church

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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