Persecution of Christians continues to worsen, fueled in part by the "Arab Spring," which not only unleashed a wave of Islamist radicalism across the Arab world but also left Christians holding the blame for many of the uprisings that removed Arab leaders from power.
In 2013, 2,123 Christians were killed in persecution around the world, up from 1,201 in 2012.
In countries across the Middle East, North Africa and south Asia, Christians are murdered or imprisoned, their homes and businesses destroyed and their rights removed. This area represents just four percent of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians, but the treatment they receive is nothing short of horrific.
“It is not an accident, the persecution and mass murder of Christians by Muslims,” said Lee Habeeb, a Lebanese Christian and vice president of content at Salem Radio Network. “It is not episodic. It is by design. It is part of a plan to destroy any competing narrative about God. To bully, threaten, and intimidate Christians into submission, or mass evacuation.”
Earlier this month, Open Doors, an organization dedicated to strengthening Christianity throughout the world, especially in oppressed nations, released its 2014 “World Watch List,” designed to highlight the countries where Christians are most oppressed. Countries in the Middle East, northern Africa and south Asia dominate the list. Here are some of the worst offenders:
Even with the violence, Egypt ranks as the 22nd-worst nation for Christians, but that's up from 25th in 2013. After Morsi’s removal, the Muslim Brotherhood burned at least 38 churches and damaged 23 others.
Egypt has the largest population of Christians in the Middle East -- about 10 percent of its 83 million total population -- but throughout the attacks, the Egyptian military and government did nothing to help. Because of the violence, some 100,000 Christians have fled the country since the original Arab Spring that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Syria rose from the 11th-worst place to be a Christian in 2013 to the third-worst in 2014 as the country's civil war worsened. In 2012 it was ranked 36th.
The steep rise in anti-Christian sentiment is fueled by the increasing influence of al Qaeda and other Islamist extremists among the rebels fighting President Bashar Assad. About 400,000 Christians fled Syria in 2013 due to oppression.
In June 2013, several Christian villages were destroyed. Only 10 out of the 4,000 residents of Ghassanieh remained. In October, the Christian town of Sadad was invaded, and 45 residents were murdered. In that same month, 3,000 Christian adults and children were used as shields for a week.
In Syria alone, 1,213 Christians were killed in 2013, meaning more Christians were killed in Syria in 2013 than were around the world in 2012.
Every few days in Iraq a Christian is killed, making it the fourth-worst country for Christians in the world. Islamist terrorist groups seek to rid the country of Christians, and nearly two-thirds of the Christian population has fled in the past decade. A country that once housed 1.5 million Christians is now home to just 330,000. Other estimates claim just 150,000 Christians remain.
Much of the anger toward Christians followed the U.S. invasion in 2003, since Christians were associated with the intervention against Saddam Hussein in the eyes of many of Iraqi Muslims. Since then, just 57 out of 300 churches remain in the country. Iraqi laws discriminate against Christians, and U.S. aid does nothing to defuse the situation.
Somalia rose three steps to become the second-worst country for Christians in the world, according to Open Doors. The government of Somalia reinforces the anti-Christian sentiment, as do Islamic religious leaders.
There are only a few hundred Christians in Somalia, and most of them are Muslim converts, and, if suspected, may be arrested, spied on or even killed on the spot. Christians in the country hide their belief in order to receive basic necessities like education and justice. Church services are held underground to avoid prosecution.
Other problems come from the violent, extremist group al Shabaab, which wants to “eradicate” Christians and implement Islamic Sharia law in the nation.
Though it’s ranked 14th, stories from Nigeria are similarly horrific. Nearly 300 churches were destroyed and 612 Christians were killed in 2013. About 89 million remain in the nation.
Christians make up nearly half the population of Nigeria, and the country's president, Goodluck Jonathan, is a Christian. But local Islamist governments in northern states where Muslims predominate and Islamist extremist groups such as Boko Haram make life nearly impossible. In many Christian villages, residents are denied water wells and schools.
One of the other major problems facing Christians in Nigeria is abduction. Christian women are regularly kidnapped and forced to "convert or die," by Boko Haram.
For the 12th year in a row, North Korea took the top spot as the most anti-Christian country in the world. Because the nation’s rulers are treated like deities, all other faiths are prohibited.
North Korea is home to some 300,000 Christians, but between 50,000 and 70,000 of them are currently being held in prison camps for the “crime” of being Christian. Family members – whether Christian or not – are sent to re-education camps.
And the prisons those Christians are sent to are unlike anything in the U.S. Confined spaces, subsisting on insects, and a high likelihood of death by malnutrition are just a few of the horrors waiting for Christians in North Korea.
And the situation for Christians is likely to get worse across all the areas of concern in 2014, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“The flight of Christians out of the region is unprecedented and it’s increasing year by year,” USCIRF said, adding that “Christians might disappear altogether from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt,” in our lifetime.
Asked what 2014 holds for Christians in the region, Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum and outspoken opponent of radical Islam, expressed pessimism.
“What I call the exclusionist – as opposed to genocidal – war against Christians will continue and grow; by that, I mean the desire to make life miserable for Christians so they pack up and leave.,” Pipes said.
Pipes also said Egypt would be the “key country” to watch as a bellwether for the plight of Christians, since it has the largest Christian community in the region.
“All is black there,” Pipes said.