THE victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan has emboldened jihadist groups around the world, increasing the threat to Christian minorities in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, according to this year’s World Watch List.
The annual publication monitors the persecution of Christians around the world. This year, Afghanistan has jumped to the top of the list after the Taliban takeover last summer (News, 20 August 2021), becoming the most dangerous country for Christians in the world.
Research analysts for Open Doors, the charity that compiles the list, say that there are now early signs that the victory of the Taliban has given a “profound psychological boost to jihadists around the world”.
Al-Qaeda congratulated the Taliban, and, in Malaysia, the head of the Islamic Party called their victory a “liberation”.
The latest Watch List was due to be published yesterday, and analysts reported that the persecution of Christians had now reached its highest levels for 30 years. They say that more than 360 million Christians are suffering high levels of discrimination and persecution: a rise of 20 million from last year.
The number of Christians killed for their faith last year rose to 5898, an increase of 24 per cent. Attacks were made on 5110 churches. Nearly 80 per cent of the killings were in Nigeria alone: it is ranked seventh on the list.
Nigeria’s former Head of Naval Intelligence, Commodore Kunle Olawunmi, has described a concerted strategy of “Talibanisation” in Nigeria by the jihadist groups: a deliberate and religiously motivated degrading of security and order, in which state actors and tribal groups are complicit.
“The rise of Afghanistan to the top of the World Watch List is deeply troubling,” the chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland, Henrietta Blyth, said.
“Apart from the incalculable suffering it represents, it sends out a very clear message to Islamic extremists everywhere: ‘You can continue your brutal fight for influence, unchecked.’ Factions like Islamic State and Alliance of Democratic Forces now see their goal of an Islamic caliphate — once thwarted in Iraq and Syria — as, once again, achievable. The cost in human lives and misery this new-found sense of invincibility is causing, and will continue to cause, is hard to overstate.”
Rises in levels of violence have been seen in Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic over the past year. Burkina Faso, once lauded for peaceful relations between faith groups, has jumped into the list at 28 after a rise in jihadist attacks.
In Afghanistan, almost all Afghan Christians are converts from Islam. Men who are found to be Christian are executed, while women and girls identified as Christians are enslaved by Taliban fighters or imprisoned.
Elsewhere in the world, in North Korea, which was previously ranked at number one and has dropped to second only because of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Christians face increasing levels of discrimination and persecution. The charity said that a new “anti-reactionary thought law” has led to a rise in the number of Christians arrested and house churches closed. Christians who are arrested are imprisoned in a “re-education camp”, from which few people emerge alive.
China re-entered the top 20 worst countries on the list this year, at number 17. Rising Hindu nationalism has driven increased persecution of Christian minorities in India, which ranks tenth on the list.
Other countries that have risen drastically up the list include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and Indonesia. Cuba has entered the top 50 after Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders who spoke out for democracy and human rights after mass protests were detained and tortured. Myanmar has risen six places to 12th.