Global Trends in Persecution
“The world is undergoing a geopolitical restructuring and human transition on a scale which has not been seen for perhaps a thousand years.” Strategic analyst Gregory Copley, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 3, 2016.
But the turbulence we are experiencing did not come “out of the blue”, nor did it develop overnight. Rather, this turbulence is the result of the confluence of some very significant 20th Century trends – mega-trends that were neither observed (missed on account of the trend towards micro-managing) nor understood (due largely to historical and religious illiteracy and ignorance). Having been mismanaged or simply missed, these trends have now converged to create a perfect storm.
Post-war 20th C trends include:
Rapid Population Growth and Urbanisation
Due to industrialisation and developments in medical technology, the global population has grown from less than 3 billion in 1950 to more than 6 billion by 2000 – with most growth being in the non-Western world.
In 1950, around 30 percent of the global population lived in cities; by 2007 it was more than 50 percent (for the first time in world history). While the mega-cities of the developed world grew over centuries, the mega-cities of the developing world have grown within decades and without the infrastructure or institutions to sustain their populations. Consequently, the mega-cities of the developing world are largely lawless spaces, havens for criminals, where whole districts are ruled warlords, militias, mafias and terrorist organisations.
CASE: In 1941, Karachi (in Pakistan) was a fishing village, population 435,000. By 2014, Karachi was home to 23.7 million people, of whom 90 percent were immigrants (25 percent Pashtun) and 50 percent were slum-dwellers. Also home also to an estimated 40 million guns, Karachi – like most mega-cities of the developing world – is “de-developing”, crumbling under its own weight.
This includes not only the mass migrations of mostly traditional and religiously conservative people from rural areas into modern/progressive urban centres, but migrations across ethnic-religious “fault-lines” – including predatory migrations.
Examples of predatory migrations across ethnic-religious fault-lines include: the southward migration of Muslim Fulani in Nigeria; Albanian Muslims into historically Christian Kosovo in the 1980s; Javanese Muslims into historically Christian Eastern Indonesia (includes Papua) from the 1990s . . . and many more . . . including (dare I say) today’s mass migration of Muslims into historically Christian Europe. Predatory migrations are strategic, organised and driven by hostile forces with ambitions of their own.
These population trends converged through the latter part of the 20th Century to produce severe and escalating social tensions.
Meanwhile, the 20th Century also included several significant religious trends:
The Phenomenal Growth of Evangelical Christianity in the Non-Western World
In 1960s, the Church was around 80 percent white, middle class and Western. Most Christians lived in majority-Christian states with secular governments and a Judeo-Christian foundation (some fruits of which are security and religious liberty). These were safe environments, where Christians generally sat comfortably in the mainstream of culture.
Today, due primarily to the witness of indigenous believers throughout the developing world (the phenomenon of indigenous mission commences around 1960) the Church is now around 80 percent coloured, poor and non-Western. Consequently, there are now hundreds of millions of Christians (still tiny vulnerable minorities) living counter-cultural lives amidst Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist majorities and/or under totalitarian regimes, in states whose names are synonymous with repression, corruption, and human rights abuses.
The Rise of Religious Nationalism
Revival of fundamentalist Islam
Through the 1960s and 1970s, the trend of Islamic radicalisation (the product of many decades of Islamic reformation and fundamentalist agitation) converged with global and regional population trends to produce Islamic revival.
Drawn by the bright lights and job prospects of the region’s newly oil-rich rapidly developing and modernising cites, multitudes of rural, madrassa-educated, conservative Muslims migrated into cites such as Cairo (Egypt), Homs (Syria), Tehran (Iran) and Riyadh (Saudi Arabia).
There in the swelling slums their needs were met, not primarily by government agencies but by Islamic charities run by political (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood) and religious fundamentalist outfits.
Many of these mostly young and conservative migrants were appalled at the rampant worldliness in, and un-Islamic nature of these cities. Revolutionary and fundamentalist clerics stoked the Islamic zeal and harnessed the Islamic rage until ultimately it erupted in the late 1970s in the form of pro-Islamic, anti-government uprisings.
Most people are aware that in Feb 1979, after 13 months of protests and political upheaval, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran; and on 1 April 1979, Iran declared an Islamic Republic. The Shi’ite ascendancy had begun!
Few however, are aware of the failed Sunni Revolution in Saudi Arabia – which has proved to be far more problematic!!
On 20 Nov 1979, Sunni revolutionaries laid siege to the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Because it was the Grand Mosque and because it was Mecca (a city forbidden to infidels) – the ruling House of al-Saud needed a fatwa (religious ruling) from the clerics that would grant foreign non-Muslim troops permission to enter the holy site. As the oil baron al-Sauds fell to their knees – the Wahhabi clerics (led at that time by Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Bin Baz) knew that finally they had the upper hand!
To secure the fatwa the house of al-Saud had to agree to fund the Wahhabi religious establishment’s campaign to disseminate Wahhabi fundamentalist Sunni Islam worldwide – and to fund international jihad — something the house of Saud was happy to do as it enabled them to both appease the clerics (who essentially controlled the masses and were sympathetic to the rev) AND keep the jihadist out of the country. Once the deal was brokered and the fatwa was secured, US and then French Special Forces were brought in and the revolution was put down.
While the Sunni Revolution failed, it paved the way for the Wahhabi clerics to secure a most strategic win!
As such, 1979 was a pivotal year in which revolutionary, fundamentalist, and aggressive Islamic factions within both sects of Islam – Shi’ite and Sunni – were massively empowered.
In Iran that power is overt, as Shi’ite clerics – specifically the Ayatollah and ruling clerics of the Guardian Council – wield ultimate political control. In Saudi Arabia, however, that power is covert, and the Wahhabi religious establishment exercises its power from behind the benign façade of the US-allied Royal House of al-Saud.
The events of 1979 served to heighten Islamic zeal and widen the gap between Sunnis and Shi’ites; between Islamic traditionalists/ fundamentalists and modernisers/ liberals; and between Islam and non-Islam/infidelity.
This, and not “Islamophobia”, is the reason why so many long-peaceful, long-blended communities and multi-cultural societies are now tearing apart.
All these religious trends converged through the latter part of the 20th Century to produce severe and escalating religious tensions.
As social tensions converged with religious tensions, competition for and conflicts over land, resources, jobs and power increasingly came to be expressed in religious terms and fought along religious lines.
The escalation of religious persecution and violence did not go unnoticed.
On 27 October 1998, the US Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which tied international religious freedom to US foreign policy. The US IRF Act (1998) gave dictators a reason to reign in hostile elements and enact reforms so as to avoid US sanctions and facilitate US trade and aid.
But the US IRF Act (1998) only had teeth as long as the US had economic leverage. Thus the financial collapse of August 2008 seriously undermined, if not totally destroyed the power of the US IFR Act. No longer would human rights-violators and religious liberty-abusing dictators have any reason to risk aggravating their own increasingly-radicalised masses and fuelling domestic tensions in pursuit of US-appeasing reforms. The veil of protection that US economic and military leverage had provided had been stripped away leaving vulnerable religious minorities — especially the developing world’s growing Christian communities — exposed and vulnerable before a rising tide of militant religious nationalism, intolerant Islamic fundamentalism, and brutal atheistic totalitarianism.
As the financial crisis spread around the globe, domestic unrest erupted as local economic distress took hold. Abusive regimes responded to the challenge in their usual way: by ramping up repression and cracking down on dissent, while scapegoating expendable elements (such as the Christian minority) and playing the religion card for political gain — all with complete impunity.
After a decade of restraint, the gloves are off!
These are days of Realpolitik and of asymmetric conflict (which relies on psychological operations and propaganda). Thanks to internet technologies, these are also days of unprecedented openness, when news can be followed in real time; when both information and disinformation can be spread in a heartbeat; and when rage can be spread, momentum built, and protests organised rapidly and effectively through social media.
The great need of the day is for discernment – and that requires knowledge and understanding of geography, history, religion, geopolitics, strategic trends, and the times in which we live.
Welcome to the website of Religious Liberty Analyst, Elizabeth Kendal.
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