Open Doors has just released its 2016 report – known as the World Watch List – of the 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith, and here is a depressing quiz question: of the 22 countries that comprise the Arab League, only three are not on the List; name those three countries.
Before providing the answer I might note that this is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the history of the World Watch List – it was first published in 2002 – most Arab League nations have been included.
And the answer to my question? The three countries are Lebanon, Mauritania and Morocco. For what it is worth, a year ago three Arab League countries also did not make it into the List. They were Bahrain, Lebanon and Morocco.
It is a sad reality that the Arab world is particularly hostile towards Christians, more so than most other places (although once again North Korea tops the rankings).
And tragically, as the report makes clear, the plight of Christians has been deteriorating as Islamic State has tightened its grip in parts of the Arab world. But worse, the influence of Islamic extremism is expanding to other countries in Africa and Asia, putting Christians even further under threat.
Thus, among the trends driving persecution, the report notes:
- Islamic extremist self-styled caliphates have expanded their spheres of operation across international borders;
- governments became more fearful of Islamic extremism and responded by either (a) boosting nationalism as a counter force or (b) tightening regulations and increasing surveillance over all religious expression;
- Muslims the world over are becoming more Islamic out of fear that extremists may take over their areas and that Islamic State sleeper cells may wake. In other cases it might be out of opportunism or religious conviction.
Even countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where Christianity is strong, are being affected. So both Kenya and Tanzania, where Christians are in the majority, find themselves on the List, as Islamic terrorism spreads.
But another phenomenon is also worth noting. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has 57 member states. Of these, 27 are in Africa, and 11 of them are on the latest World Watch List. Yet when we exclude the North African Arab countries we find that only three African members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation are on the List – Mali, Niger and Nigeria.
This is not to say that the persecution of Christians does not occur in other member states of the Organisation. It does happen, and sadly it appears to be worsening, as the influence of Islamic State spreads. But for the time being at least, let us note that fully 16 Islamic African countries are not on the World Watch List.
A year ago Open Doors said that Christians had faced the worst persecution in modern history during 2014. Then came 2015, and the torment was significantly worse. Unfortunately, as 2016 begins, there is little to suggest that this year will not be worse again.