Storm clouds pass over a Roman Catholic church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 14, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JASON COHN)
The death toll in the dastardly attacks on eight targets in Sri Lanka on Sunday has reached more than 290 people and is still rising. Reports say that authorities in Sri Lanka received advanced, general warnings that a spate of attacks could take place on the island. Although it has not yet been officially determined who is behind the atrocity, it now seems likely that it was an Islamist group.
Even if the identity of the perpetrators is not yet 100% clear, there is no question about the identities of the victims. Three of the attacks were carried out at churches packed with worshipers for Easter Sunday prayers and another three at luxury hotels popular with Westerners. There was also an attack on a guest house and a housing scheme, as well as a thwarted attack on the route to the airport in the capital of Colombo. In other words, the attacks were on Christians and “foreigners.”
The bombings perhaps came as a surprise to the average Westerner, but moderate religious streams – of all faiths – are under unprecedented attack. There has been a surge in antisemitism, including attacks during this Passover; the deadly assault on the synagogue in Pittsburgh last year and on the mosques in New Zealand last month cannot be forgotten. But it should not be overlooked that Christianity is also being targeted.
There have been dreadful attacks on churches in places ranging from Europe to Africa and Asia, but to a certain extent these have been ignored.
The Coptic Christian community in Egypt, for example, suffered devastating losses during attacks on churches on Easter in 2017. In Pakistan in 2016, 75 people were killed during Easter celebrations in Lahore. This January, more than 20 people died in an attack at a Catholic cathedral in the Philippines.
As Lela Gilbert, author of Saturday People, Sunday People, wrote in an January opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post: “In today’s world, Christianity is under assault as never before… Today, in 2019, across the world, more Christians are in mortal danger because of their faith than ever before in history. At the same time, attacks on Jews and Jewish property are increasing exponentially worldwide.”
Christian communities have been decimated across the Middle East, particularly, but not only, in areas that came under Islamic State control. Similarly, in many countries ranging from Iran to Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia, Christians live in fear.
Even in Europe, churches are experiencing vandalism and even deadly attacks. Many of these are unreported or under-reported in the media, either because the largely secular press does not recognize or identify with the problem, or through fear of crossing the conventions of political correctness and being accused of fostering hatred instead of spotlighting its horrific consequences.
World leaders from a wide range of nations expressed their horror at this week’s attacks in Sri Lanka and sent sympathy and condolences. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on behalf of the citizens of Israel, expressed “deep shock over the murderous attacks against innocent civilians in Sri Lanka,” and offered Israeli assistance to the authorities in the capital Kotte at this difficult time. “The entire world must unite in the fight against the scourge of terrorism,” he said. President Reuven Rivlin had a similar message and, in what has now become a sad tradition, Tel Aviv City Hall was lit up in the colors of the national flag of the latest target of terrorism and tragedy.
We must indeed unite to fight a global problem. And it needs to go beyond expressions of sympathy. Israel does play a leading role in providing the technology and intelligence to help fight terrorism. Incidentally, the tactic of recruiting young suicide bombers that is commonly used by global jihad was widely exploited by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
With all due respect to US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” expected to be released in June, it should by now be apparent that although Palestinian terrorism helped spread the global scourge of high-casualty, high-profile attacks, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the most significant one in global terms. While so much attention and funds have been focused on the Palestinian cause, the plight of Christians around the world has been virtually ignored.
We cannot afford to divert our eyes from the suffering any longer. Attacks on churches – like attacks on synagogues, mosques and the centers and symbols of other religions – are an affront to humanity. Violence and hatred never stops with just one targeted victim.
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