In an interview with Czech Catholic newspaper Katolické Noviny*, John Eibner, International President of Christian Solidarity International, talks about how secularism and Islamic supremacy are driving the persecution of Christians, and why hate attacks are increasing even in Europe. A shortened English version of the interview is printed below.
A displaced woman sleeps in the main cathedral in Stepanakert following the Azerbaijani invasion. csi/Siranush Sargsyan
You have witnessed the persecution of Christians in many countries: what causes latent tensions in society to turn into violence?
Christians are persecuted today for essentially the same reasons that Jesus and the first Christians were persecuted 2,000 years ago. Reflecting a divine authority that stands above the “powers and principalities” of the world, to use Biblical language, Jesus and his followers have always represented a threat. Sometimes Christians are persecuted simply because they are weak and make convenient scapegoats for ambitious rulers to exploit.
Cooption is the other time-honored method of eliminating threats to power arising from the Christian faith. The Church and its institutions receive a share of worldly power in return for political subservience. It sometimes happens that persecution and cooption take place simultaneously. Those who lived under Communism in Czechoslovakia know something about that.
What went through your mind when you saw the exodus of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan invaded last September?
My first thoughts turned to the victims of this ethnic-religious cleansing. I considered how CSI could best express our solidarity with them in the form of humanitarian relief. But I was very quickly reminded that this ethnic cleansing of Armenian Christians could take place in the 21st century because they have no powerful protector. The geopolitical and economic interests of Moscow, Washington, and Brussels were all aligned with the Muslim Turkish-Azerbaijani axis. None of these “powers and principalities” acted decisively in favor of the besieged Armenian Christians. All they did during nine months of blockade, followed by two days of military invasion, was offer weak rhetorical protests. They imposed no sanctions against the Azerbaijani architects of the ethnic-religious cleansing.
This should serve as a reminder of the vulnerability of Christian communities in an essentially post-Christian world in which Islam and secularism remain potent political forces.
Did Azeris oppress the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh before 1988? If so, was this due to national or religious differences?
There has been a long and bloody history of repression by Azeris of Armenians generally and specifically in Nagorno Karabakh. The recent ethnic-religious cleansing of Nagorno Karabakh is just the latest episode in the process of the Genocide of Armenian Christians in the Turkic-Muslim world. The Muslim Turks and the Muslim Azeris are “one nation with two states,” as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminded the Azerbaijani parliament in 2009.
Those who think the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh is just a local dispute over a small, poor mountainous region do not see the big picture. It is part of an emerging neo-Ottoman imperial conglomeration based on the economic and military might of the Turkic-Azeri axis. This extends in Europe to Cyprus and the Balkans, in north Africa to Libya, in the Middle East to Syria and Iraq. The military aggression of this neo-Ottoman constellation gets a pass on account of Turkey’s NATO membership and Europe’s energy dependence on Azerbaijan. It is therefore able to ethnically cleanse 120,000 mainly poor Armenian Christians from their historic homeland with impunity.
In Nicaragua the Church is being persecuted and priests are being arrested. Why?
The Nicaraguan authorities arrest priests mainly because the Catholic Church has a strong record of defending human rights. The Church is also closely associated with the Catholic trade union movements that oppose dictatorship. The Marxist-oriented regime of Daniel Ortega is now weak and feels vulnerable.
What is happening in Nicaragua is not altogether unlike the harassment, arrests and even murder of priests in Poland in the 1980s as the Church-backed Solidarity trade union movement gained momentum and threatened the existence of the Communist regime.
In Nigeria radical Muslims killed 198 Christians just before Christmas. Are Muslims persecuting Christians in other countries too?
In all Muslim-majority countries Christians suffer on account of Islamic supremacism. Their suffering can range from social or legal discrimination to ethnic cleansing as we have just witnessed in Nagorno Karabakh. The Christmas Eve massacre of roughly 200 Christians and the displacement of thousands of survivors is part of a long-running religious cleansing process centered on Nigeria’s Middle Belt.
Are there any countries where Muslims are a majority and where freedom of religion is respected?
There are Muslim-majority countries where there is considerable tolerance granted to Christians and other non-Muslims. Indonesia and Bangladesh are two such examples. But even in these relatively tolerant countries freedom to evangelize is severely restricted, and conversion from Islam carries risks of grave punishments either by society or the state.
Is it right for western European states to economically cooperate with countries where freedom of religion is not respected?
I do not believe in prohibiting economic cooperation by imposing economic sector sanctions against states. But targeted sanctions against those who have been shown by due process of law to be gross violators of religious freedom and other human rights is another matter.
We think of European countries as having a good record in terms of tolerance and human rights. However, in 2022-23 the number of hate attacks against Christians increased** and there was more discrimination. Why?
As state-sponsored secularism becomes more extreme and Europe becomes a thoroughly post-Christian society, anti-Christian acts – violent and otherwise – will inevitably increase. Secular political and economic elites now tend to view Christianity in Europe as an obstacle to the globalization of Europe.
Do persecuted Christians have a deeper faith than those who live in freedom?
It is hard to generalize. But obviously victims of Christian persecution have a greater awareness of the politics that drive persecution and the suffering it causes. Moreover, those that have retained their faith despite persecution are likely to have emerged with a stronger faith. This is clear when one looks at the Christian communities that suffered persecution under Communism and those in western Europe and North American that did not.
There is a greater readiness in North America and Western Europe to cast off a religious faith and go with the flow of the prevailing secular, materialistic consumerism than is the case in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.