Christmas is a time of joy and celebration — that is, if you live in North America.

As we celebrate the season of lights with friends and family, enjoying an array of traditions both religious and secular, Canadians should pause and think about those around the world who would like to celebrate Christmas, but cannot.

Christians remain the most persecuted religious group on the planet, and heart-breaking stories of violence and hostility occur on a regular basis, across the Middle East but also in places, such as Pakistan, China and even Europe.

In the Middle East, the birthplace of Christ and the biblical homeland for Christians, Islamist warlords, jihadist extremists and majority Muslim populations have engaged in violence, intimidation, ethnic cleansing and genocide for decades.

They’ve all but wiped out the region’s diverse Christian populations.

As a result, Christians from Egypt to Iran and Turkey to Yemen are fleeing and disappearing in record numbers. Following the first world war, it’s estimated that about one in five people in the Middle East were Christian. Today, it’s less than 4%.

In once tolerant and diverse countries, such as Turkey and Iran, Christian populations simply no longer exist. Iraq’s once vibrant Christian population fell from 1.4 million in 2003, to less than 200,000 today.

In Europe, home of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals and the birthplace to many of our Christmas traditions, Christians are suddenly feeling under attack.

In recent years, ISIS has targeted and waged deadly attacks at Europe’s iconic Christmas markets.

On Dec. 19, 2016, an ISIS agent deliberately drove a large truck through the market at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, killing 12 innocent people and injuring 56 more. He was a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia who worked with ISIS to wage his cowardly act of war.

On Dec. 11, 2018, an Islamist gunman opened fire at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France while shouting “Allahu Akbar.” He killed five people and left 12 more wounded.

The terrorist gunman was known to security officials in Europe, and yet, he was able to carry out his gruesome attack against unsuspected Christians in Europe’s capital.

ISIS has made repeated calls for attacks against Europe’s Christmas markets. In response, many of these beautiful and historic markets have erected airport-style security and market-goers remain tense and afraid, many deciding to simply stay at home.

In South Asia, particularly in Pakistan, dispersed Christian populations face unimaginable threats and intimidation by local theocratic zealots.

Take the case of Asia Bibi, which I’ve written about before. Bibi is a poor Christian villager who was attacked by a mob and pressured to convert to Islam. She refused and, as a result, was charged, convicted and given a death sentence under the country’s regressive blasphemy laws.

Bibi’s case was recently overturned but the Pakistani government refuses to let her leave the country. Legions of angry Islamist men protested her acquittal and demanded that she be killed.

Her safety remains in jeopardy, and this Christmas, Bibi and her family will observe the holiday in hiding.

In China, the communist government has not only banned many churches and cracked down on Christians talking about their faith, some cities have also banned displays that could be construed as celebrating Christmas. No Christmas trees, no decorations, no songs, no lights.

In North America, we take freedom of religion for granted. This Christmas, we should commit to defending Christians around the world who cannot defend themselves.

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