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The wave of anti-Christian violence

Christians in the Muslim world are becoming scapegoats as anger about the ‘crusader west’ takes hold

By Simon Tisdall

1/14/2010 Egypt , Algeria , Pakistan , Iraq (TheGuardian) – A recent wave of violent attacks on Christian worshippers and churches in countries across the Muslim world is intensifying concern that continuing military conflict, cultural friction and economic imbalances embroiling Islam and the west are fuelling a parallel rise in religious intolerance at grassroots level.

The increase in tensions is seen as particularly disturbing in countries such as Egypt where Islam and Christianity have a centuries-old history of largely peaceful co-existence. In one recent incident, gunmen attacked a Coptic Christian congregation near Luxor , on the Coptic Christmas eve, killing six churchgoers and provoking inter-communal rioting and arson.

The Egyptian government said the violence was an isolated event and not sectarian. But many disagreed. About 2,000 Copts took to the streets of Cairo on Wednesday, saying the official response had been inadequate and complaining of systemic ill-treatment. One sign read: ” Egypt burns while its leaders sleep.”

Anger in local Muslim communities about Christian proselytising, alleged desecrations of the Qur’an, or “liberal” attitudes towards women often sparks confrontation. An attack on a Protestant church in Tizi Ouzou in Algeria on Saturday night, when Bibles and hymnals were burned, was reportedly touched off by rumoured Christian attempts to convert Muslims.

The US state department’s latest country report on Algeria , whose population is 99% Sunni Muslim, says that “in practice” the Algerian government restricts religious freedom. Restrictions increased in 2009 following implementation of an ordinance limiting public assembly for the purpose of worship, the US said. Twenty-seven churches were closed for non-compliance with the ordinance. It also reported routine antisemitism in Algerian Arab media.

Attacks on Christian minorities over the Christmas period were also reported in Indonesia , the world’s largest Muslim country, and in mostly Sunni Muslim Pakistan. In one case last year in Gojra , Pakistan , several Christians were burned to death and Christian homes and churches destroyed by a mob after reports circulated that a Qu’ran had been desecrated. “The attacks on Christians seem to be symptomatic of a well-organised campaign launched by extremist elements all over central Punjab,” Pakistan ‘s human right commission chairwoman Asma Jehangir said.

In Iraq , the problems facing Christians and other minorities are more deadly. An estimated 1,960 Christians have died there in targeted attacks since the 2003 invasion. The Christmas period saw a spate of church attacks in Mosul in defiance of a long, pre-war tradition of co-existence. Other minorities, such as Jews, have also suffered – although by far the biggest toll has been exacted by clashes between Iraq ‘s Sunnis and the larger Shia Muslim community.

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