There are 2.2 billion Christians around the world. The Christian non-governmental organization Open Doors calculates that 100 million of them are being threatened or persecuted. They aren't allowed to build churches, buy Bibles or obtain jobs. That's the more harmless form of discrimination and it affects the majority of these 100 million Christians. The more brutal version sees them blackmailed, robbed, expelled, abducted or even murdered.
Bishop Margot Kässmann, who was head of the Protestant Church in Germany before stepping down on Feb. 24, believes Christians are "the most frequently persecuted religious group globally." Germany's 22 regional churches have proclaimed this coming Sunday to be the first commemoration day for persecuted Christians. Kässmann said she wanted to show solidarity with fellow Christians who "have great difficulty living out their beliefs freely in countries such as Indonesia, India, Iraq or Turkey."
There are counterexamples as well, of course. In Lebanon and Syria, Christians are not discriminated against, and in fact play an important role in politics and society. And the persecution of Christian is by no means the domain of fanatical Muslims alone -- Christians are also imprisoned, abused and murdered in countries such as Laos, Vietnam, China and Eritrea.
Open Doors compiles a global "persecution index." North Korea, where tens of thousands of Christians are serving time in work camps, has topped the list for many years. North Korea is followed, though, by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Maldives and Afghanistan. Of the first 10 countries on the list, eight are Islamic, and almost all have Islam as their state religion.
The systematic persecution of Christians in the 20th century -- by Communists in the Soviet Union and China, but also by Nazis -- claimed far more lives than anything that has happened so far in the 21st century. Now, however, it is not only totalitarian regimes persecuting Christians, but also residents of Islamic states, fanatical fundamentalists, and religious sects -- and often simply supposedly pious citizens.
Gone is the era of tolerance, when Christians enjoyed a large degree of religious freedom under the protection of Muslim sultans as so-called "People of the Book" while at the same time medieval Europe was banishing its Jews and Muslims from the continent or even burning them at the stake. Also gone is the heyday of Arab secularism following World War II, when Christian Arabs advanced through the ranks of politics.
As political Islam grew stronger, devout believers' aggression focused not only on corrupt local regimes, but also more and more on the ostensibly corrupting influence of Western Christians, for which local Christian minorities were held accountable. A new trend began, this time with Christians as the victims.
In Iraq, for example, Sunni terrorist groups prey specifically on people of other religions. The last Iraqi census in 1987 showed 1.4 million Christians living in the country. At the start of the American invasion in 2003, it was 550,000, and at present it is just under 400,000. Experts speak of a "creeping genocide."