Apologists for Islamic persecution of Christians regularly argue that the animosity is not driven by religion, but rather a "sectarian" divide, by any number of "indigenous" factors—poverty, intertribal conflicts, political machinations, etc. Other times, persecuted Christians are portrayed as Zionist agents and rapists, spies and traitors—anything other than people killed for their Christian faith.
Joel Shrum (L) and Jeremiah Small: Martyred in the lands of Islam
Consider, however, the following two stories which deal with, not indigenous Christians—that is, not members of the native framework with its complex socio-political factors—but American Christians; not Zionist spies, but teachers who were, nonetheless, killed last March for sharing their faith with Muslims, for behaving like Christians.
First, on March 1, Jeremiah Small, a "beloved teacher and friend" who taught at a Christian school in Iraq, was shot to death by an 18-year-old student, even "as he bent his head to pray at the start of a morning class. The 33-year-old teacher from Washington state took bullets to the head and chest and died at the scene." According to students, "Mr. Jeremiah's hands were still folded in prayer when he fell"; others say a day before the shooting "a heated discussion" broke out "during which the pupil threatened to kill the teacher because of conflicting religious views."
The official story, however, as reported by the mainstream media, such as the Wall Street Journal, is that the source of the quarrel is a "mystery," and religion is unlikely; mention that he was murdered during prayer is also withheld.
Yet there are more indicators that he was likely murdered for sharing his Christian faith. According to this article, which interviews family and friends, Small "was a devout Christian who frequently praised Christianity and prayed in the classroom, and his friends in Washington said his evangelism is what motivated him to teach in Iraq… but he wasn't pushy." A pastor who once interviewed Small says "He knew he was putting his life on the line… He felt this was a way to serve and touch some lives for God." His parents—who wrote on Facebook "Our oldest, Jeremiah was martyred in Kurdistan this a.m."—do not appear to doubt the context of his murder. Finally, it is interesting to note that the Muslim father of the pupil who killed Small condemned Christian evangelists, portraying them as "more dangerous than al-Qaeda."
Speaking of al-Qaeda, on March 18, Joel Shrum, another American teacher, was shot eight times and killed in Yemen by gunmen on a motorcycle. The assassins, who escaped after the attack, are members of the al-Qaeda linked "Supporters of Sharia" (which recently beheaded a "witch"). The group issued a message saying, "This operation comes as a response to the campaign of Christian proselytizing that the West has launched against Muslims," calling Shrum "one of the biggest American proselytizers."
Shrum's employers strongly denied the charge: 29-years-old, Shrum "was an American development worker who had been working in Yemen with his wife and two children since 2010. Unfortunately Joel S. has been accused of being a part of a proselytizing campaign, but the staff of ITDC, which consists of Muslims, Christians and other religions working together, has continually focused on human development, skill transfer and community development," adding that "Joel S. was a very professional employee who highly respected the Islamic religion." (Note the boilerplate kowtowing to Islam, which one would have thought unnecessary—at least in this context.)
However, an interview with Shrum's wife makes clear that he was a devout and open Christian, likely to share his faith: "He lived in the reality that we are all created in the image of God and that nothing can separate us from the love of God…. These truths were an inspiration for everything that he did." Moreover, there is no reason to doubt his Islamic murderers when they say he was killed for "proselytizing." There are many other Americans in Yemen: if al-Qaeda was simply targeting American infidels in general, there would be more random killings.
To conclude, Small and Shrum were not missionaries devoted to proselytizing Muslims—if so, they would have probably been killed earlier—but they were Christians who were not hesitant to share the Gospel with anyone showing interest, including the Muslims of Iraq and Yemen. This was enough to kill them—the one by a student, the other by al-Qaeda.
Finally, it is well to recall that these two Americans had nothing in common with the indigenous Christians of the Muslim world; the arguments used to dispel the persecution of the latter—sectarian strife, political machinations, etc.—do not apply to the former. Instead, the only thing they have in common is Christianity. This reaffirms, yet again, that the animosity that killed the Americans Small and Shrum, is the same animosity that persecutes and sometimes kills the Islamic world's Christian minorities—an animosity based on religious intolerance, nothing more nor less.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.