Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Another horrific terrorist attack on Christian worshippers yesterday morning, this time in Egypt [report from David Batty]:

At least 21 people have been killed and more than 70 injured in Egypt in a suspected suicide bombing outside a church in Alexandria as worshippers left a new year service.

It was initially thought a car bomb had caused the explosion just after midnight at the Coptic orthodox al-Qidiseen church. But the interior ministry suggested a foreign-backed suicide bomber may have been responsible.

Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 79 million.

Security around churches has been stepped up in recent months with the authorities banning cars from parking directly outside them, after an al-Qaida-linked group in Iraq threatened the Egyptian church in November.

I happened to read a piece by John Allen yesterday about the true extent of persecution of Christians around the world, as documented by Aid to the Church in Need.

Aid to the Church in Need, a German-based Catholic aid agency, produces a widely trusted annual report on global threats to religious freedom. It estimates that somewhere between 75 percent and 85 percent of all acts of religious persecution are directed against Christians. In a report to the European Parliament last month, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said that while Muslims and Jews face significant persecution, “Christians faced some sort of harassment in two-thirds of all countries,” or 133 states. [My italics]

Those statistics are fleshed out by headlines almost every day.

This Christmas season alone, scores of Catholic Masses were cancelled in Iraq due to threats from extremist groups. Since the first Gulf War in 1991, Iraq has lost two-thirds of what was once among the largest Christian populations in the Middle East. In China, a new crackdown on the church is in full swing, as the government has orchestrated elections for a rump bishops’ conference and an assembly of Catholics calculated to preserve state control. Some clergy were herded into those elections virtually at gunpoint.

In Vietnam, a Catholic bishop was banned from celebrating Christmas Mass in the country’s mountain region, reportedly because of his success in converting the Montagnards, a cluster of ethnic groups often stigmatized and seen as potential threats by other Vietnamese. In the Philippines, Muslim extremists attacked a Catholic chapel on the island of Jolo on Christmas Day. It was merely the latest assault on Jolo, where a bomb exploded inside the local cathedral in July 2009, killing six and wounding forty. In Nigeria, fighting between Christians and Muslims in the northern city of Jos over the Christmas period has reportedly left at least 80 people dead.

Christianophobia is on the rise for a whole cocktail of reasons. Part of it is simple math: There are 2.3 billion Christians in the world, the largest following of any religion, so in terms of raw numbers there are simply more Christians to oppress. That’s especially true as Christianity’s center of gravity shifts to the developing world, where democracy and the rule of law are sometimes conspicuous by their absence.

Because of the historical association between Christianity and the West, Christians are often convenient targets for individuals and groups expressing anti-Western rage. In some cases, too, the logic is exquisitely local. In India, a disproportionate share of Christian converts come from the “untouchable” Dalit community, so it’s often difficult to disentangle specifically Christian persecution from older caste prejudice. (A similar point could be made about the Montagnards in Vietnam).

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Fire: Disaster in the city by millzero.There are lots of studies about how people react to unexpected danger, how they calculate risk, and how they make decisions in a crisis. I’ve been thinking about this with all the weather chaos stories of the last week. People trapped in the snow, wondering whether to abandon their cars or bed down for the night. Which option has the greater immediate risk? Which has the more burdensome medium-term consequences? People trapped in the Channel Tunnel, not sure whether to sit patiently and wait for instructions, or to get up and do something.

One of the best books I have read this year is Amanda Ripley’s The Unthinkable: who survives when disaster strikes — and why. She interviews survivors from various twentieth-century disasters — terrorist attacks, plane crashes, fires, kidnappings, etc. — and opens up not just the horror of the experiences but also the thought processes and calculations that took place within them. Then she talks to experts in psychology and sociology to examine more scientifically how the human person typically functions in a moment of crisis. She tries to pinpoint what is to our advantage, and what is not.

There are some compelling stories; it’s like reading ten thrillers back-to-back. And I learnt a lot. Most people, Ripley explains, go through the stages of denial and deliberation before coming to a decision about how to act. This is why passivity rather than panic is usually the initial response to disaster.

This is one of the few books that has caused me to change my behaviour. Now, I really do look around the aeroplane to see if the nearest exit is behind me — knowing that clambering in the wrong direction could cost me my life.

But don’t buy this book if you are of a nervous disposition…

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