Both the prime minister of Italy and U.S. President Obama have refused to acknowledge that Christian migrants who died in the Mediterranean Sea after being thrown overboard by Muslims were targeted because of their faith.
Last week, fifteen African Muslim migrants were arrested by Italian authorities on charges of "multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate" after throwing 12 fellow passengers into the sea during a recent crossing from Libya. According to the BBC, the incident occurred when, during the crossing, the rubber craft sprung a leak, and a Nigerian Christian began praying. A Muslim migrant aboard the boat demanded he cease his entreaties, reportedly saying: "Here, we only pray to Allah."
Because they refused to stop praying, the Christian passengers were pushed overboard by the Muslim migrants, who reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great."
A police statement said the apparent motive for the attack was clearly linked to the fact that the victims "professed the Christian faith while the aggressors were Muslim."
However, at a joint White House press conference on Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in response to a reporter's question that there is "not [a] problem of clash of religions in Italy." Instead, he explained problem as a lack of stability in Libya that is prompting illegal immigration to Italy.
"The problem is not a problem of clash of religions," the PM said through an interpreter."It's a problem of human dignity. We are absolutely committed to solve this problem."
President Obama, who stood alongside Mr. Renzi and typically "offers answers to questions posed to his foreign counterparts at joint press conferences," also refused to address the reality of the issue, sparking criticism from many who have previously accused him of being "sympathetic" to Islam.
Writes USA Today contributor Kirsten Powers, "If a Christian mob on a ship bound for Italy threw 12 Muslims to their death for praying to Allah, does anyone think the president would have been so disinterested? When three North Carolina Muslims were gunned down by a virulent atheist, Obama rightly spoke out against the horrifying killings. But he just can't seem to find any passion for the mass persecution of Middle Eastern Christians or the eradication of Christianity from its birthplace."
She adds, "Western leaders - including Obama - will be remembered for their near silence as this human rights tragedy unfolded."
This is not the first time the White House has neglected to acknowledge the Christian faith of today's martyrs. Following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by Islamic extremists back in February, the President issued a response in which the victims were described as "innocents" and "victims," but no mention of their Christian faith was present.
Then, in response to the Al-Shabaab massacre of nearly 150 Christians at a Kenyan university in April, Obama released a statement in which he failed to acknowledge the victim's Christianity or label the extremist group as having Islamic motivations.
Franklin Graham, President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has criticized Obama's foreign policy on a number of occasions, including the president's refusal to call terror group ISIS "Islamic."
"The truth is - their barbaric murderers openly said they killed them because they were 'people of the cross,'" he said, referring to the killing of the Coptic Christians. "Why is the president seemingly continuing to protect Islam and refusing to open his eyes to the truth?"
He added in a recent Facebook post,"The influence of radical Islam is spreading, not diminishing."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also lamented the fact that "when it comes to persecuted Christians, not only do we not have action, we rarely get words." Referencing Obama's speech at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast in which he criticized "less than loving" Christians, Perkins noted, "it seems the President and his administration only bring up Christians when they want to bash them."
Earlier in April, Pope Francis called for "concrete participation and tangible help" from the international community "to defend and protect our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, exiled, killed, beheaded, solely because they are Christians."
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics added that country leaders would be justified in using military force as a last resort to stop "unjust aggression" perpetrated by Islamic extremists.
The Vatican's official preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, added there was a "disturbing indifference" among world institutions and in public opinion to the killing of Christians.