Jihadists seek to make Africa first Islamic continent
Violence against Christians in sub-Saharan Africa has hit new heights as jihadists seek to make Africa the first Islamic continent. This is already having catastrophic consequences for the church – and the risks may yet worsen.
Across the 26 nations that recorded at least high levels of persecution against Christians, the number of violent attacks experienced by believers rose by five per cent. In half of these countries, including Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Niger and Mozambique, the levels of violence hit extremely high levels.
Persecution of Christians in Nigeria has reached unprecedented levels. Islamic jihadist violence used to be contained largely to the north and central areas of the country, but has now spread further south and is causing widespread devastation and trauma to Christian communities.
China (16) looks to redefine human rights
Another trend centres on China, who are leading subtle attempts to redefine human rights not in terms of dignity and worth, as it’s been classically understood, but as the ‘right’ to development and happiness. It may seem a subtle shift, but it represents a damaging move towards widespread authoritarianism.
This is the backdrop to the Chinese authorities tightening their grip on Christians, who are seen as a particular threat to President Xi Jinping’s hold on power. In March 2022, draconian laws were introduced that require a permit to share religious material on the internet – and this is only given to state-approved religious organisations, such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
All of this is enforced by the country’s increasingly sophisticated use of surveillance. Sharing ‘illegal’ content such as sermons and podcasts, even on social media, is highly risky. Where China leads, others follow. This toxic mixture of authoritarianism, nationalism and technology has been adopted by other countries like India, Russia and Turkey, with many other nations not far behind. This is a deeply alarming trend for millions of believers across the world.
Clinging to hope in the Middle East
In many ways, the redefinition of human rights is already emerging in the Middle East, with many believers, especially converts from Islam, deemed troublemakers and labelled a threat to national security. A case in point is Iran, where house churches are regularly raided and Christians sent to prison on loosely defined charges.
It’s not the only risk facing Christians in the region. In places like Iraq (18) and Syria (12), the number of believers has not recovered from the conflicts of the past decade, during which many believers were among those who fled the region. Unemployment among young Christians is high, while children are vulnerable to bullying from peers and teachers at school. Syria is rarely in the news today but conflict persists – last year, dozens of churches and Christian buildings were damaged in attacks by Turkish armed forces and at least five Christians kidnapped.
The challenges reinforce the importance of Open Doors’ Hope for the Middle East campaign, and 160 Centres of Hope have been established so far in Iraq and Syria, thanks to the prayers and giving of Open Doors supporters. These are enabling many believers to remain in, or return to, the region and have hope for the future.
View the World Watch List 2023