The world is facing a series of potential and actual conflicts which threaten worldwide peace but which will also see many Christians disproportionately targeted and threatened.
- The rise of radical Islamism has been ignored by governments for too long, particularly in the West where many politicians still struggle to say the words ‘Islam’ and ‘violence’ in the same sentence.
The reality is that Islamism is a political ideology that fundamentally challenges the very basis of many of the freedoms we enjoy including freedom of religion. Islamists seek to impose Islamic government and law on Muslims and non-Muslims alike in every part of the world.
Some Islamists use the political process to achieve this, others use violence. However, they have broadly similar aims. For the last few years we have seen an expansion of the Islamisation process in many countries, with more and more aspects of Islamic law (i.e. shari’a) being implemented.
When these are enacted vigilante violence often follows as Islamists try to enforce even greater degrees of shari’a enforcement on the population. In 2014 there were 32,658 deaths from terrorism, almost ten times the number in 2000, with around 80% due to Islamic extremism.
Last year, Lord Richards, the UK’s former chief of defence staff warned that “we need to approach this issue of Muslim extremism as we might approach World War Two back in the 30s.”
- NATO which kept the peace in Europe throughout the Cold War is now under threat. Key members of the EU reacted to the UK’s Brexit vote by accelerating moves to create a European army, which would be a rival to NATO.
As 73% of all NATO members’ defence spending comes from the USA Europe’s defence would clearly be much weaker if NATO were replaced by a European army. At the same time the increasingly strident anti-Russian rhetoric could lead to a new Cold War. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ongoing involvement elsewhere in Ukraine have led NATO members to send a full brigade to the former Soviet Baltic states who believe themselves under threat from a possible Russian incursion next year. This is seen by Russia as provocative. The peace is truly precarious – one single event such as the shooting down of one Russian aircraft over Ukraine could all too easily lead to the outbreak of war.
- Turkey, a NATO member once hailed as a beacon of modern secular liberalism to other Muslim-majority countries is now in a state of crisis. For many years it has looked westwards to join the EU. However, it has increasingly looked eastwards under President Erdogan who appears intent on recreating the Ottoman Empire which once claimed leadership of the Islamic world.
For several years Turkey was reluctant to join the attacks by its NATO allies on Islamic State in neighbouring Syria. There were also strong indications it was turning a blind eye to the smuggling of weapons and jihadis across its border into Syria. Now however, Turkey has sent its land forces into Syria supposedly to fight IS. Its allies there are non-IS jihadists and its action appears to have been precipitated by the probability of Kurdish forces seizing territory from IS to link up two Kurdish controlled areas on the Turkish border.
The Kurds were the USA’s strongest and only reliable Syrian allies in the fight against IS. However, the US has now betrayed them by ordering them to hold back to allow Turkey to take territory from IS. Turkey then turned its weapons on the Kurdish forces in Syria. At the same time Turkey is rapidly seeking alliances outside of NATO including with Russia.
This is a major change as Turkey has been a long term opponent of Russia’s ally Syria’s President Assad. In fact, less than a year ago Turkey shot down a Russian fighter which it claimed strayed into Turkish airspace, an act the Russia Prime Minister claimed gave Russia legal grounds to declare war.
- The South China Sea is another brewing conflict. China has for decades claimed the Paracel and Spratley Islands and the Scarborough Shoal more than five hundred miles from its coast but less than 100 miles from bases in the Philippines used by the US military.
China has been building artificial islands in the region to bolster its claims. Approaching aircraft and ships are warned that they are entering a Chinese milirary zone. The USA has responded by very publicly deploying its naval vessels and aircraft within the zone, which China sees as provocative. Again there is the potential for a small incident to escalate into a regional crisis.
- Hezbollah has now more than recovered from its 2006 war with Israel and is now seen by Israeli defence planners as an existential threat. Whilst Hezbollah had 14,000 rockets in 2006, they now have an estimated 150,000. This would enable them to fire 1,500 a day. This is much more than Israel’s missile defence system could cope with and under such circumstances there could be hundreds of Israeli civilian casualties.
Much of its weaponry, which includes sophisticated Russian made anti-tank and anti-ship missiles has been supplied by Iran, which could join it in any war with Israel. Given that Hezbollah is already fighting alongside Iranian revolutionary guards to support Russia’s Syrian ally President Assad, there is a serious risk of the Syrian conflict spilling over into a wider conflict involving Israel.
In this period of instability Christians are going to be at the receiving end of war, conflict and uncertainty.