COSTA MESA, Calif. (BP)–A leading authority on religious persecution sees a connection between the Osama bin Laden terror network and persecution directed against Christians in a host of countries.
“He’s tied in with a lot of persecution,” Paul Marshall, British-born author of “Their Blood Cries Out” and a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., told ASSIST News Service.
“In many settings it’s radicals within his network who are carrying out persecution,” Marshall said. “This is going on in the Philippines, Indonesia and to some extent Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and, of course, Afghanistan.” Meanwhile, bin Laden is allied with other terrorist groups in Algeria and Nigeria that have been killing Christians, Marshall said.
“Bin Laden’s had a lot of cooperation with Sudan — a major country in the world killing Christians,” Marshall said. “The death toll in Sudan since 1998 is 2 million; that is more than every war in the Middle East in this past century. Most of these victims are Christians.”
Marshall views bin Laden as the figurehead of a far-reaching organization which seems to lack hierarchical structure. “If Osama bin Laden drops dead tomorrow, the situation has hardly changed. Zawahiri would take over — and he’s probably worse,” Marshall said, referring to Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s top lieutenant.
“Whether bin Laden is the principal brains and organizer behind the operation, there is considerable doubt,” Marshall said. “When I say bin Laden, I’m referring to a network of these organizations. It’s not as if an order comes down from Kabul or Kandahar to Indonesia to go out and attack these people. They are allied; they have common goals — it’s not top-down.”
Marshall said bin Laden is a convenient symbol in a media-driven age. “He’s a visible figure. He’s tall; he’s 6-foot-4. We might hate him, but he happens to be handsome and charismatic. In our news media, particularly TV, we like to symbolize it with a person,” Marshall said.
Persecution also continues in Muslim countries without ties to bin Laden, Marshall said, noting, “You get persecution in the Islamic world apart from bin Laden. Most notably are the Saudis — who are [bin Laden’s] enemy number one. They have arrested 15 Christians in the last two months. In the [first week of October], they have tortured at least three of them.
“America is not on the first list of things [bin Laden] hates,” Marshall said. While bin Laden’s family roots are in Saudi Arabia, he loathes the Saudi government’s cozy relationship with western powers. “He believes they have allowed infidels into the [Muslim] holy land and they must be destroyed,” Marshall said. “He first wants to get western troops out of Saudi Arabia.”
Next on bin Laden’s hate list are moderate Arab governments, Marshall said: “He wants to overcome those Muslim regimes that have sold out to the West, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Malaysia.
“Third, he wants to attack those who in his view oppress Muslims,” Marshall said, citing Israel, Russia [stemming from the strife in Chechnya], India (because of Kashmir) and several other countries including America.
“That’s his priority list of grievances, but it’s not his military list of priorities,” Marshall said. “He can’t do anything about the first two groups unless he does something about the U.S., because [in his mind] they’re the ones who stop him.
“So in terms of his strategy, America is one of the groups that needs to be addressed first,” Marshall said. In a “primitive analogy,” he likens the United States to a bodyguard who must be removed first, before taking on bin Laden’s real foes.
The official name of “Al-Qaida,” Marshall noted, is “World Islamic Front for Holy War Against Jews and Crusaders,” a name taken in 1999 when bin Laden merged with Egypt’s Islamic Jihad.
“For him, Jews are allies of the Christian West,” Marshall said. In some respects, Christians are a greater problem than Jews in bin Laden’s eyes because he perceives Christians as larger and more powerful, Marshall said. “For him, America is Christian, Britain is Christian, Europe is Christian.
“Sometimes he says the Jews control the Christians — particularly in America,” Marshall said. “He believes the Jews control the media and the American government. He really lumps Jews and Christians together.”
With the horrendous events of Sept. 11, Americans were forged into a deadly marriage between terrorism and persecution, Marshall said. “America does not have the largest death toll from Islamic radicalism,” he said. “We’re beginning to share the experience and share the fate of many other countries around the world.
“In Kaduna, Nigeria, over 5,000 people have been killed since the imposition of Islamic law,” Marshall said. “In Pakistan in 1997, the city of Shantinagar was leveled, razed, a city of 20,000 people,” he said. “The death toll in Ambon, Indonesia, is 5,000 to 6,000.”
These numbers pale next to Sudan, Marshall reiterated, with 2 million killed. “Two million, that’s a hard number,” Marshall said. “That’s not pulled out of the air.” Marshall has personally examined extensive documentation of the Sudanese carnage. The victims have been primarily Christians, along with some animists.
“This is a great evil and we can fight it and reduce it,” Marshall said. “But we can no more end all persecution than we can end all terrorism.”
The Bush administration has not been aggressive in its approach to Christian persecution issues with offending regimes, Marshall stated. “The U.S. government is still very reluctant to raise this as a human rights issue, even with the new administration,” he said. “The State Department doesn’t push it, and a lot of foreign policy resists it — it makes their lives tougher,” Marshall said, adding that Secretary of State Colin Powell has not warmed to the subject either.
“The attacks of Sept. 11 are a wakeup call for all Americans,” Marshall said. “But it should also be a wakeup call for Christians,” he said. “Be informed and pray. No congregation in America should meet without praying for the persecuted church.”
Mark Ellis is a senior correspondent for ASSIST News Service and an assistant pastor at Calvary Evangelical Free Church, Laguna Beach, Calif.