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Mordechai Kedar: Christians of the Middle East – Endangered Communities

The “Christian West” is perceived by traditional Islam as responsible for all of the ills of the region: the establishment of the State of Israel, its arming and its reinforcement, are perceived as a “Western” project and therefore also as a “Christian plot” and “modern crusade.” During the past twenty years, permissive ideas have increasingly permeated into Middle Eastern societies, mainly by means of satellite TV channels and the Internet, presenting a difficult challenge to the normative Islamic system, family values and accepted standards of modesty in the region. Traditional Islamic circles have placed responsibility for the moral deterioration within their societies on the “West,” which is led by Christians. The war that the West conducted against Iraq under the command of the United States in 1991, the war that the West conducted against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan beginning in 2001 (“crusade,” as President George Bush called it at first) and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 all exacerbated the regional rage against the “Christian” West. The traditional support by the “Western Christians” of the smug billionaires from the Gulf countries flush with petrodollars, also arouses the envy of the indigent, unemployed, ignorant and sick Arab masses, and this jealousy is translated into rage directed toward the local Christians, who serve as the scapegoats.

Another reason for the hatred towards Christians is the great difference between the Western “Christian” states and the Islamic states: the West is thriving, flourishing, rich, developed, democratic, honors the rights of the individual and the citizen, even those of children and women, while the Middle Eastern societies lag behind, are poor, stagnant, dictatorial, violent and oppressive. These differences create envy within the peoples of the Middle East and this leads to hatred. This hatred is also directed toward the “Westerner,” meaning the local Christian. It can be said in general that the worse and more complex these problems in any specific location in the Middle East have become, the worse the Christians there are treated by the surrounding Muslim environment.

In the days of the First World War, the Turkish Muslims slaughtered more than a million Armenian Christians because of the suspicion that they were cooperating with the Christian European super-powers against the Muslim Turkish Ottoman Empire, which was defeated in the war. The nations of the world did the Turks a favor when they ignored the religious component, because if the slaughter had been called a “massacre of Christians” as indeed was the case, modern Turkey would have carried the extremely problematic “mark of Cain” on its political forehead until today.

Since 2003, there have been a number of severe attacks in churches in Iraq when they were filled with people; other churches have been broken into and looted, Christian women were forced to wear a head covering in the public, Christian homes were broken into and robbed, and businesses of Christians suffered harassment. As of today, only about half of the Christians that were present in Iraq in 2003 remain there.

In Egypt, in recent years, there have been many terror attacks against the Copts as they emerged from their churches, and many of them were killed and wounded. Especially noteworthy is the car bomb that exploded next to the church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve of 2011, that caused the death of about forty people and wounded about two hundred. Egyptians who convert from Islam to Christianity are received among the Christians as heroes, but according to the law, which permits conversion from Christianity to Islam, but not the opposite, they have committed a transgression. Not one day passes without some violent act being reported against Copts in Egypt. As a result of this, the Copts emigrate from Egypt in great numbers; according to the estimate, between one quarter and one third of them have emigrated over the years.

In Sudan, the civil war that was conducted between the Islamic North and the Christian and pagan South (the longest-lasting civil war in the world), caused two million fatalities over more than fifty years. Salafis in Tunisia recently slaughtered a youth who converted to Christianity and recorded it on video. In Lebanon, the whole history of the state during its eighty years is that of an experiment to establish and maintain a state intended for the Maronite Christians, despite the fact that they were a minority and the Muslims were the majority. It is a story about how the Maronites strive to survive in a state ruled by the increasingly powerful Shi’ite Hizb’Allah, and how they cling to their historic dwelling place, Mount Lebanon, despite the temptation to emigrate to other states where life is more comfortable and serene. As a result of this never ending struggle for survival, between one quarter and one third of its Christian residents have emigrated from Lebanon over the years.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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