Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article was originally published by the Gatestone Institute, under the title “The Widespread Desecration of Christian Graves.”
Although the Islamic persecution of actual, living Christians is certainly more deplorable, Islamic attacks on inanimate Christian symbols are often more indicative of the existential hate borne for the other.
Consider, for instance, the phenomenon of Muslims desecrating and destroying Christian cemeteries and their crosses. While the act itself is largely “symbolic”—in that no living person gets hurt—it is also reflective of a committed, viral hatred that transcends subjective circumstances. In other words, whereas the persecution of this or that Christian can be motivated by particular circumstances—conflicts, sexual attraction, convenience, gain, etc.—attacks on inanimate Christian symbols reflect an objective, transcendent hatred for Christianity and its followers, one that needs no “reason” and gains nothing in its expression.
From one end of the Islamic world to the other—in Arab, African, and Asian nations, and increasingly in the West—this sort of hate is becoming a regular occurrence. A brief list follows; it is ordered by desecrations committed by formal terrorists (“ISIS,” etc.), informal terrorists (Muslim mobs), and Muslim governments:
Libya: In March 2012, a video of a Muslim mob attacking a commonwealth cemetery near Benghazi, where WWII British officers were buried, appeared on the Internet. As the vandals kick down and destroy headstones with crosses on them, the man videotaping them urges them to “Break the cross of the dogs!” while he and others cry “Allahu Akbar!” At one point, he chuckles as he tells an overly zealous desecrater to “calm down.” When another Muslim complains that he is unable to kick down a particular stone, wondering if it is because “this soldier must have been good to his parents,” the man videotaping replies, “Come on, they are all dogs, who cares?” Finally the mob congregates around the huge Cross of Sacrifice, the cemetery’s cenotaph monument, and starts hammering at it, to more cries of “Allahu Akbar.”
The same scene repeated itself on June 3, 2015: What were described by witnesses as “Salafi” Muslims—that is, Muslims who in word, deed, and dress try to emulate their prophet Muhammad and his companions—were seen destroying crosses and tombstones and digging up graves in the old Christian section of Tripoli.
Iraq: In April, 2015, Muslims affiliated with the ISIS desecrated Mosul’s oldest Christian cemetery, dedicated to St. Thomas the Apostle. ISIS published pictures of their followers using sledgehammers to destroy gravestones and efface the crosses carved on them as documentary evidence of their campaign to “eradicate mushrik [pagan] symbols.”
In November, 2016, a human rights group published photos from the Christian cemetery of Qarqoosh, which was also vandalized by ISIS-supporters. Among other things, the desecraters opened coffins and despoiled the dead; one picture shows the snapped off skull of a formerly resting-in-peace corpse, with crosses hurled around it on the ground.
Syria: The Islamic State released an online video on May 16, 2016, showing an ISIS fighter desecrating Christian graves at the Deir ez-Zor cemetery.
Although so-called “mainstream media” reported some of the above desecrations—mostly because the Islamic State performed and already publicized them—they rarely report on the fact that “everyday” Muslims also engage in this macabre practice. A few examples follow:
Indonesia: In April, 2019, there was “a rash of desecrations directed at Christian graves in the city of Yogyakarta, a spree some local residents believe was a targeted act of intolerance rather than random vandalism.” A few months earlier, a number of other crosses and gravestones were damaged, apparently by a hammer, in what has long been touted as the most “moderate” Muslim nation in the world.
Pakistan: In May, 2019, near Lahore, “38 Christians graves were desecrated… In addition to desecrating the graves, the unknown assailants also defaced several crosses fixed to the graves.” A local Christian said the incident “shows that some religious fanatics have their roots in the neighborhood and want to seed religious hatred in the mindsets of the young generation which is alarming.”
Algeria: In September, 2018, over 30 Christian graves were desecrated at La Reunion War Cemetery, one of few Christian cemeteries remaining in the Muslim nation: “The graves were ransacked and tombstones smashed. Investigators believe that Islamist motives are at play. While the government is pursuing an investigation, the desecration of these graves come at a time when the Algerian authorities have increasingly harassed the church. During the past year, a number of churches have closed by authorities …”
Malaysia: In February, 2014, a Christian cemetery was desecrated in the middle of the night in the Muslim majority nation. “Local witnesses said that some gravestones were completely smashed, and some crosses were broken… Flowerpots and other stone markers were also broken. It seems that perpetrators used a heavy tool to do the damage.”
Senegal: In October 2012, more than 160 Christian graves were desecrated in the Muslim-majority nation. “Crucifixes and other stone objects were taken away from their graves in the Christian cemeteries of Saint Lazarus of Bethany and Bel Air, by individuals who have not yet been identified.”
Along with professional and unprofessional Muslim terrorists, Muslim governments join the ranks of desecraters of Christian cemeteries:
Iran: In April, 2012, “a 200-year old Christian cemetery in Kerman province was completely demolished” by authorities in their bid “to destroy historical Christian monuments [and] to totally wipe the Christian heritage from the face of Iran.”
A few months earlier, in February, 2012, the historical graveyard of English Christians in Bushehr, which was also used by the Armenian community, was reported as being in complete disarray and “all the crosses on graves are broken.” The report adds: “For a long time, the graveyard has been intentionally overlooked by state authorities of Bushehr, because it houses the bodies of English veterans. This disregard continued to the extent that in 2003, the tourism organization of Iran built a stone wall around the graveyard and prevented visitors from entering.”
Pakistan: An August, 2016 report noted that “Local Christians claim the[ir] graveyard is undergoing wear while the local authorities are overlooking the situation.” A few months later, in October, 2016, authorities in another district were reported as having allowed the only Christian graveyard to deteriorate over the past thirty years and have taken no restorative measures despite repeated Christian pleas.
Tunisia: In May 2012, after the Russian ambassador in Tunis requested that the nation’s Ministry of Interior “protect” the Orthodox Church of Tunis—the cross of which had recently been targeted by Salafi Muslims—both the Christian cemetery located behind the church and the Russian school were vandalized. The cemetery’s crosses were destroyed, while the walls of the school and religious frescoes were smeared with fecal matter (as recently happened in France).
Indeed, as Muslim populations grow in Western nations, the same phenomenon that occurs in Muslim nations—namely, the desecration of Christian cemeteries—grows with them.
Consider the one Western European nation with the largest Muslim population, France. In April, 2015, 215 Christian gravestones and crosses in the cemetery of Saint-Roch de Castres (Tarn) were damaged and desecrated (pictures here). According to the case prosecutor, the accused was seen dressed in traditional Arab attire; he “repeats Muslim prayers over and over, drools and cannot be communicated with: his condition has been declared incompatible with preliminary detention.” He was hospitalized on the assumption that he is “mentally unbalanced.”
Because they are still minorities in the West, Muslims sometimes express their animosity in less direct ways. After Muslims in Germany were granted their own section at a cemetery, and after being allowed to conduct distinctly Islamic ceremonies, they began demanding that Christian symbols and crosses in the cemetery be removed or covered up during Islamic funerals.
More recently, European nations are taking preemptive measures to forestall potential Muslim anger. In Italy, in April, 2019, “crosses on graves in an Italian cemetery in Pieve di Cento have been covered with black cloth so as not to offend those who may come from another religion,” a reference to Muslim migrants. “The cemetery,” the report adds, “has also installed motorized blackout curtains in a local chapel following renovations to hide Roman Catholic symbols during ceremonies involving other denominations,” again, a reference to Muslims.
In short, despite the Western establishment’s insistence that Islamic terror is a product of anything and everything but Islamic teachings—economics, politics, grievances, etc.—the widespread phenomenon of Muslims from all strata of society desecrating Christian graves and their crosses bespeaks of an intrinsic hate that transcends all temporal considerations.