In 1955, songwriter Pete Seeger wrote “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” It begins with young girls picking flowers and ends with those flowers growing atop the graves of young men killed in war. The song’s anti-war message is clear in refrains repeated throughout, “Oh, when will they ever learn?”
Seeger’s question is one Christians need ponder as they watch what is happening to their religion in Muslim countries around the world. It matters not whether the Muslim country is “extreme,” such as Iran, or allegedly “moderate,” such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The ultimate impact remains the same: Where Islam reigns, Christianity is dying. Proof positive of this is evident today in Turkey despite the fact that, for more than half a century, it has been embraced by Christian democracies.
While cultural and religious differences within Turkey existed in 1952, recognition of a common defense bond with Ankara caused the Western nations of NATO to extend an invitation for it to join the Alliance. Having embraced democracy itself decades earlier under the leadership of the founder of the Republic of Turkey and an Islamist reformer, Kemal Ataturk, the country had loosened its tight Islamic reins as it turned down the road to westernization. NATO’s invitation was accepted by Turkey with great pride.
One would like to think such a bond would have nurtured a mutual respect for each other’s differences. However, as far as religion goes, more recently it has been a one-way street.
This has especially been so under the iron-fisted leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan—Turkey’s current president and former prime minister—who first came to power in 2003. For twelve years, Erdogan has sought to reverse the engines of democracy by embracing the good old days of tyrannical Islam.
It is interesting to note that, as mosques symbolizing Islam’s influence have drastically increased in numbers within NATO countries, evidencing Western tolerance, the number of churches symbolizing Christian influence have drastically decreased in Turkey, evidencing Muslim intolerance. In fact, churches there are on the verge of extinction.
The ongoing debate over the fate of the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul has put the spotlight on this issue, providing yet another reason for Christians to ponder whether they will ever learn from what is occurring.
Built in 537, the Hagia Sophia Church served for almost a millennium as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. In 1453, Turkey was conquered by Mehmed II, who ordered the church be converted into a mosque. Christian relics were removed and mosaics plastered over. However, in 1935, as a more tolerant environment thrived under Ataturk, the mosque was turned into a museum to recognize the building’s dual Christian and Muslim history.
Under President Erdogan, Turkey’s Islamist fervor has resurfaced, targeting Christianity and its symbols.
A recent article by Burak Bekdil focuses on the Hagia Sophia Church issue. It reports that last month “crowds of Islamic religious ‘imam school’ graduates gathered in Istanbul and issued a press statement, demanding that the historic Hagia Sophia Church function as a mosque: ‘The Hagia Sophia, for us, is not just a prayer house; it symbolizes, together with the Conqueror’s (Sultan Mehmed II) heritage, our independence… Without it being opened to (Muslims) prayers, there is no way we, the Turkish nation, can be fully independent.’”
Demonstrators complain about having to pray with Christian symbols all around.
As Bekdil points out:
Turkey has no shortage of mosques. On the contrary, devout Turks enjoy the comfort of more mosques per 1,000 population than Sharia state Iran. The campaigns for the ‘Hagia Sophia Mosque’ have nothing to do with a shortage of Muslim prayer houses in Turkey’s most populous city. They merely reflect an Islamic crusader mindset. The Turks physically ‘conquered’ Istanbul back in 1453, but pious Turks apparently think the conquest is incomplete with ‘Christian heritage’ around. If the ‘conquest’ is to be complete, all traces of ‘Christian heritage’ must be wiped out…
While Erdogan has encouraged this mindset, hopefully the setback his party experienced in parliamentary elections earlier this month—denying him the super-majority with which he sought to modify the Constitution and thus solidify his role as a caliph-in-waiting—suggests a more moderate electorate is gaining influence. Whether this will translate into more tolerance for Christians—four of whom will be taking parliamentary seats—remains to be seen.
In the Islamist mind, whether “moderate” or “extremist,” the world began with the life of Prophet Muhammad. No other religion can be allowed to compete or co-exist, even though it may have existed long before Islam. Thus, all vestiges of competing religions must be removed or destroyed.
This is the same Muslim mentality that resulted in Afghanistan’s Taliban dynamiting two of the world’s largest standing Buddhas in 2001. The magnificent sandstone statues, carved into a cliff 1,700 years earlier, had withstood climatic events and wars only to fall victim to a mindset intolerant of all other religions.
Such anti-Christian activity by Muslims is evident more recently elsewhere. Just this past March, in Pakistan, two Muslim suicide attacks were conducted against churches where forewarned officials provided no security.
In the Central African Republic, eight churches were burned.
In Egypt, a Coptic Christian church was attacked, after which a leading cleric in Egypt’s Salafi movement, Dr. Yusuf al-Burhami, defended the action stating, “Destroying churches is permissible—as long as the destruction does not bring harm to Muslims, such as false claims that Muslims are persecuting Christians, leading to (foreign) occupations.”
Unbelievably, al-Burhami counsels, “destroy the infidels but don’t call it persecution lest it attract foreign retaliation.”
In Kenya, several attacks against a church have been conducted.
In Iraq, ISIS destroyed a 10th century Chaldean Catholic church and bulldozed a nearby cemetery. A country with a 2,000 year history of a Christian presence, Iraq has seen that presence disappear.
In Lebanon—a once Christian nation—church attacks were also reported.
In Saudi Arabia, openly practicing other religions is forbidden. Last year, it imposed the death penalty simply for smuggling bibles into the country. Earlier this year, the Kingdom’s senior religious authority—the Grand Mufti—called for the destruction of all churches there.
During an April 2014 visit to Saudi Arabia, President Obama—who had been beseeched by human rights groups to raise the issue of Christian persecution in the country—did not do so, claiming there was insufficient time. This is most disturbing. We have a President who made clear early on in his first term he would protect the rights of Muslims and has done so, but who proves unwilling to make the time to ensure the rights of Christians are similarly protected.
While Turkish demonstrators will not destroy the Hagia Sophia Church, they will look to remove any evidence of its Christian roots, effectively achieving the same result the Taliban did to remove evidence of Buddhist roots in Afghanistan. Just as the Turks believe there is no God but Allah, they believe there is no religion but Islam.
There is a disconcerting global trend at work under the banner of Islam.
A Pew Research Survey and the non-religious organization the International Society for Human Rights determined approximately 100,000 Christians are being killed annually due to their faith. The Chairman of the Council for Justice and Peace, Bishop John McAreavery, calls this death rate—equivalent to 273 Christians dying daily or eleven per hour—“unprecedented.” He added, “Eighty percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians.”
Despite the effort to eradicate Christians in the Muslim world, all we hear from their Muslim persecutors and naïve non-Muslim supporters of Islam are wails of “Islamophobia”—just by questioning Islamic dogma’s impact on human rights.
An Islamic crusader mindset seeks to make Christians extinct. “Oh, when will they ever learn?”
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.