I'll admit that I didn't (and don't) understand the article's first line: "For Christians--and many Muslims--the main reason to celebrate this Christmas is, of course, Jesus' birth." I wasn't aware that Muslims did that. If so, I feel confident that they're not celebrating the same Jesus as the rest of us, but I mention it only because it seems an odd preface to the persecution of Christians, which the adherents of Islam in certain places are eager to inflict.
The Weekly Standard can be a mixed bag of varying conservatisms, but in this season of Merry Christmas and happy New Year, of personal resolutions and of hope for increased prosperity, the reminder that Paul Marshall offers in the current issue - that Christmas is not, for everyone everywhere, an event of unblemished joy, but one fraught with peril - should for us be salutary.
...for probably hundreds of millions, Christmas is shadowed by pain and fear, since this is usually the peak season for anti-Christian attacks in Pakistan, India, Sudan, Nigeria, and beyond. It is also a time when the Chinese and Vietnamese governments are prone to arrest their unregistered believers.
He gives examples, such as the rioting in Nigeria during the 2006 "Danish cartoon" uproar, in which Muslims "killed 65 and destroyed 57 churches and 250 businesses." Other places where persecution is ongoing? China, Laos, India, Iraq, Turkey, Ethiopia, Sudan, Belarus, and Gaza. He even mentions Britain, where Muslim converts to Christianity are threatened, to the extent that "Many remain in hiding, and one has had to move 45 times."
But we should not think that all, or even most, of the persecution of Christians comes at Muslim hands (I don't know what the actual figures are). Mr. Marshall draws the article's focus down to two countries in particular ("two of the worst", he says) which are largely ignored "because their repressions do not fit any wider international political agendas," leaving "their victims among the world's most forgotten people" - Burma and Eritrea. Of the former he says that "the regime's destruction of its ethnic and religious minorities seldom receives coverage, though it rivals that in Darfur." Both of these states seem to be secular in practice, if not in foundation, with a low tolerance for religious fervor, seeing it as a competitor in the state's desire for the soul's allegiance, and resulting in certain policies whose fanaticism puts the religious variety to shame. In Burma's Chin State, for example, though the government officially promotes Buddhism (it was Buddhist monks who led the demonstrations there and were crushed for their trouble), "unmarried Buddhist government soldiers have been encouraged, with offers of higher rank and privileges, to marry and convert Christian Chin women." It appears that Christians and Muslims are persecuted there with equal ferocity, neither being allowed to build churches and mosques, but actually compelled to participate in their destruction. In Eritrea, the government's animus seems especially aimed at Pentecostals and Evangelicals. The author claims that in both countries torture is commonplace with, in Burma, "reports...of prisoners being roasted over fires." Eritrea accomplishes this below ground in metal containers, without the use of fire.
All this comes at a time when "Christianity is the world's fastest growing religion. Two-thirds of Christians and four-fifths of active Christians live outside the West, so Christianity now may well be the world's largest non-Western religion."
Anyway, read it for yourself. I've often wondered why the defense of these "forgotten people" is not a part of the vaunted War on Terror. Have any of our presidential candidates made any mention of them? If we're going to go around liberating countries for humanitarian reasons, who better to benefit than our fellow Christians? And, in a few places, even the Muslim might end up calling us brother.