How many regional crises does it take to make a global crisis? Tomorrow marks the second annual International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief as designated by the United Nations. But many in the mainstream media will wrongly ignore it.
The last decade has seen increasing violent attacks committed against religious believers and even genocides in Burma, Iraq, and Syria. The memory of these sobering atrocities should drive us to intervene on behalf of countless victims of violence based on religious belief who are suffering even now and need our help today.
One of the foremost religious freedom crises of our time is unfolding in Xinjiang, China, where Uyghur Muslims are victims of violence at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. Research estimates that hundreds of thousands of Uyghur women have been required by authorities to undergo mandatory pregnancy checks, forced sterilization, and even forced abortions.
One Uyghur woman who worked at a hospital described the forced abortions this way: “The husbands were not allowed inside. They take in the women, who are always crying. Afterwards, they just threw the fetus in a plastic bag like it was trash.” Such brutality is difficult to comprehend.
At the same time, an estimated 1 to 3 million Uyghurs are arbitrarily detained in so-called “re-education” camps. Survivors of the camps recount torture by electric batons as well as rape and sexual assault. The ill treatment of Uyghurs is no surprise given that Chinese President Xi Jinping instructed local officials to show “absolutely no mercy” in their dystopian crackdown in Xinjiang.
Meanwhile in Iran, persecution of religious minorities is rampant, particularly focused on Baha’is, Sunni Muslims, and Christians. At the time of this writing, some 37 Christians are either detained, released temporarily (due to COVID-19), or serving sentences. Judging by past victims’ reports, there is little doubt that those presently in the hands of authorities are experiencing physically abusive treatment.
Mary Mohammadi is just one example, but she represents thousands of Christian converts from Islam who remain at risk of criminal accusations. Mohammadi has been jailed twice for her outspoken Christian beliefs. Today, she faces a suspended sentence, handed down in April 2020, calling for 30-days behind bars and ten lashes. She has been beaten repeatedly, sexually abused, left undressed in freezing conditions, and denied food and water.
China and Iran are ruthless persecutors. But no place in the world is suffering the level of widespread bloodshed “based on religion or belief” as Nigeria. A recent issue analysis published by Family Research Council summarizes:
A July 15, 2020 headline reports that 1,202 Nigerian Christians were killed in the first six months of 2020. This is in addition to 11,000 Christians who have been killed since June 2015. Such violence has reached a point at which expert observers and analysts are warning of a progressive genocide – a "slow-motion war" specifically targeting Christians across Africa's largest and most economically powerful nation.
Two radical Islamist groups are primarily responsible for the carnage. One is Boko Haram, which is linked to the Islamic State in West Africa. Another equally brutal faction is identified as “Fulani herdsmen,” or more accurately, Fulani jihadis. Evidence of both groups’ genocidal intentions include thousands of murdered villagers; maimed, burned, and raped survivors; and torched homes, churches, and crops.
Sadly, we could add more than a few other countries to this brief list such as North Korea, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. It is right and good for us to pause and remember victims of violence who suffer for their beliefs. But remembrance alone is not enough. The stories of violent religious persecution around the world should spur politicians, activists, and citizens to act on behalf of the oppressed. We ought to work toward a world where religious freedom is a reality for all and no one fears violent attacks because of his beliefs.
Lela Gilbert is a Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.
Arielle Del Turco is the Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.