Sometimes in the midst of the social and political ills that seem to mark our daily living, we can forget that there are some countries in which violence becomes part of a war against another group within the same borders, with the intent of decimating that group. Today, August 22, is the United Nations’ International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. The day was adopted as the attacks against minority groups with ethnic/religious difference are on the upswing.
The UN page cites: “The case of abduction and murder of priests, the disappearance and resettlement of religious leaders, torture and beating based on religion or belief by the police are only some examples of the persecution and discriminatory behaviour towards religious minorities.”
The trend is frightening and extensive.
In Syria, where there is the oldest Christian group, Islamic State (IS) has targeted Christians, Shia Muslems and Yazidi. There is forced conversion, a Christian tax or death.
In Myanmar (Burma), a Buddhist state, Muslims are being herded into camps where they must live in horrific conditions and have been stripped of their citizenship. 150,000 have been affected.
In France, Muslims are targeted. Recently, a Muslim woman was stripped of some of her clothing by police because her attire was not respectful to “good morals and secularism”. Churches across France have also been vandalised.
Christians are persecuted and killed in Nigeria where several priests have been abducted and killed. In the Nigerian Middle Belt, Christian farmers are being killed by Fulani herdsmen, in a continuing battle over land that is decades-old. There is no Government intervention.
In China, Uighur Muslims have been detained in re-education camps designed to strip them of their identity. Christian churches are being closed and pastors are being detained, as the Government is attempting to control the burgeoning followers of the Christian faith.
In Pakistan, Christians and Hindus are subject to mob attacks and murder. One Christian couple was burnt to death for allegedly defiling the Koran. Young Christian and Hindu girls are abducted and forced into marriage with Muslim men.
In North Korea, according to Open Doors’ 2019 figures, 50, 000–70,000 Christians have been detained in camps, where they are tortured and forced into hard labour. Open Doors UK publishes a World Watch List of places around the world where it is the most dangerous to be a Christian. North Korea tops the list.
In May 2019, a report commissioned by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the Middle East declared that the persecution of Christian was close to a genocide. “Millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against, the report finds. It also highlights discrimination across south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and in east Asia – often driven by state authoritarianism” (‘Persecution of Christians ‘coming close to genocide’ in Middle East – report; UK Guardian. May 2, 2019).
Remember the devastating Easter attacks in Sri Lanka this year as Catholics gathered for Mass.
Trinidad and Tobago has been untouched by this degree of violence, although there have been cases of vandalism on Hindu temples, the most recent one being at the historical Temple by the Sea in Central Trinidad, which can be the sign of a quiet intolerance. Mercifully, we are spared acts of violence against religious leaders and members of any faith because of their beliefs.
As this island nation approaches its 57th anniversary of independence, we have to be thankful for the religious and ethnic diversity within our space. The heterogeneity of the population shapes the individual, and the embedded culture directly through association, or merely through the co-existing. The attempt to draw boundaries along ethnic lines is both an act of delusion and simply foolish given the small space which we inhabit. Today, we thank God for our fortunate placement here, our neighbours, and pray for those around the world who are suffering under intolerant regimes and persecution.