Since late September, the crackdown on pro-democracy forces in Burma has brought unwelcome attention to one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth.
For many people, the defining image of the Burmese struggle for human rights has been Buddhist monks in red robes staging demonstrations. Reports about Burma focus on the plight and plans of the estimated 400,000 Buddhist monks in the country.
Given the coverage, people might be surprised to learn that Burma not only has a substantial Christian population, but that these Christians have long been the junta’s preferred target.
Late last month, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called on China to use its influence with the Burmese government to promote democratic reform. Aside from the unintentional irony of China promoting democratic reform anywhere, I could only wonder of the French foreign minister, “Where were you when Burma’s Christians needed you?”
For instance, the U.K. Telegraph reported about a Burmese government document describing a plan for eradicating Christianity in that country. The document began with the words “there shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced.”
What followed were “point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.” While the junta denied authorship of this specific document, it “made no public attempt to refute or repudiate its contents.”
It could hardly do otherwise—its persecution of Burma’s Christian minority is well-documented. Christian churches have been torn down and replaced by Buddhist pagodas; and Christians have been forced to financially support Buddhist projects and festivals.
It gets worse: Christian children have been removed forcibly from their homes never to be seen again. And members of largely Christian ethnic groups—the Chin, Lachin, and Karen—have been tortured by the Burmese army. Christian women are gang-raped by soldiers, killed, and their mutilated bodies placed on display as a warning to others.
Not surprisingly, the treatment of Burmese Christians does not figure prominently in recent news reports about the Burmese democracy campaign. Actually, their treatment scarcely registers at all.
I say “not surprisingly” because, sadly, the media has a blind spot when it comes to the persecution of Christians. For instance, you can listen to several months’ worth of news about Iraq, and, with a few honorable exceptions, never hear about the plight of Iraqi Christians. There was a similar journalistic silence about the treatment of Sudanese Christians by that country’s Islamic-led government—until, that is, many of us staged a noisy campaign.