Asia's Christians face increased political violence

The persecution of Christians across the world is on the rise, just like the politicization of religion. But in the wake of the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, experts are warning against proclaiming a war between faiths.

There's nothing to gloss over: There are "deep concerns about the growing persecution of Christians in various parts of the world."

The European Parliament's annual report on human rights and democracy in the world from December 2016 has lost none of its topicality and dramatic nature ― on the contrary.

Politics, nationalism fuel persecution

A toxic mixture of state and societal persecution has intensified the worldwide persecution of Christians, especially in Asia. According to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center polling institute in the United States, which examines the global religious landscape annually, Christians in 144 countries have their freedom of religion violated.

Read more: We must resist the perverse logic of religious terrorism

According to the international evangelical aid organization Open Doors, Islamic oppression, state political hostility and religiously motivated nationalism are the main driving forces behind the persecution of Christians. In China, Vietnam and North Korea, Christians are regarded by their respective regimes as enemies of the state. In India and Sri Lanka, persecution of Christians is often driven by nationalism.

In its World Persecution Index 2019, Open Doors lists 50 countries in which Christians are most persecuted. Twenty-five of them are in Asia. Sri Lanka ranks 46th, far behind North Korea, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

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02:57 mins.
DW News | 24.04.2019

Sri Lankan Muslims fear backlash

'Not a new phenomenon' in Asia

Johannes Seibel, who heads the campaign for religious freedom at Catholic relief organization Missio, believes that the recent attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka can be traced back to the "import of Islamic terrorism in cooperation with local Islamists."

"We have been observing this pattern more often in Asia recently," Seibel told DW. "Twenty-eight people died in a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh during a hostage-taking in July 2016. And in May 2018, bomb attacks were carried out on churches in Indonesia."

Read more: After the tragedy, Sri Lankan tourism braces for impact

Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance in India, says that targeted attacks on Christians during Easter are "not a new phenomenon." In a statement on the attacks in Sri Lanka, he noted that more than 75 people were killed on Easter 2016 in a bomb explosion near a church in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The terrorist organization Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Seibel said the "Islamic State" (IS) group's claim that Islam and Christianity are in a global war fits in with the narrative that the attacks on Sri Lanka could be an "import of Islamic terror."

Christianity and the West

"In the consciousness of IS, Christianity is quite often connected with the West and especially with the US," Seibel said. "And then the ideologists can say that the US attacks the Islamic world, they are Christians, we have to defend ourselves."

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DW News | 24.04.2019

Sri Lanka investigates international links to bombings

However, Seibel cautioned against believing in an alleged global struggle between Christians and Muslims, or between world religions themselves. "Of course it is terrible to see Christians being hated and exposed to violence," he said. "But it doesn't help persecuted Christians if we in Germany, too, now only discuss how big the persecution of Christians is and who are the most persecuted. There is persecution of Christians, but the crucial thing then is to look for solutions to fight the causes of this persecution." 

Fostering dialogue

That is exactly what Missio is working to achieve. Seibel said interreligious dialogue, commitment to religious freedom and denouncing the political abuse of religions are all potential pathways toward a solution. "We must always look closely at where religion is abused by whom, and then, for example, tackle it through interreligious dialogue," he said. "The good experiences of cooperation between the Catholic Church and representatives of Islam in Nigeria, for example, show that interreligious dialogue and joint commitment to religious freedom are very important."

Read more: How did Islamist terrorism take hold in Sri Lanka?

Vijayesh Lal has also warned against the increasing spiral of hatred and violence. "The attacks in Sri Lanka are proof that religiously motivated violence and terrorism are increasing," he said. "Because hatred results in malice, death and destruction, it must be decisively rejected. This becomes obvious in all terrorist attacks around the world, be it in India, Pakistan or recently in Christchurch in New Zealand."