BLOG 146 – September 17, 2013
What a difference a week makes! Last week Obama was sinking in the mud. This week Russia and America have struck a deal on dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons. A week ago Assad said he didn’t have any such weapons. This week he is willing to give them up. My, my! How surprising.
During this past week the Syrian opposition coalition elected a provisional prime minister. Ahmad Tomeh, a dentist and longtime dissident, certainly has his work cut out for him. The Syrian National Council has not been highly effective because of infighting and being beholden to supporters that provide funding.
And then there are the Christians. Where are they?
Across the Middle East Christians are a religious minority, controlling no territory and at the mercy of whatever country they exist in. During the rioting in Egypt, members of the Muslim Brotherhood attacked Coptic Churches, burning a significant number. In Syria, reports keep emerging that jihadists are threatening Christians with retaliation after the war is over. In the Sinai Peninsula, Islamist terrorists have launched vicious attacks on Egyptian Christians. Coptic Christians continue to be attacked and scapegoated for the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Because the Christian faith began in Israel 2,000 years ago, the situation is indeed strange. A thousand years ago, the Crusaders established a Christian nation in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Until the rise of the Muslim conquests in the 7th century, Christianity flourished across the region. Even with Muslim domination in the region, Christians comprised 20% of the Middle Eastern population up to the beginning of the 20th century. Today that number has dropped to somewhere between 2% to 5% and is fast dwindling. Some estimates now expect that number will be cut in half by 2020 due primarily to exclusion and persecution leading to immigration. Middle Eastern Christian are facing a grim future.
For decades Egyptian Christians ( Copts) have lived in fear because of assaults on churches, homes, shops, mob killings, and the forced abduction of Christian women compelled to marry Muslim men. Theses abuses even happened under the staunchly secular regime of Hosni Mubarak. In Lebanon, the controlling power has now become Hezbollah, a radical and heavily-armed Shi’ite moment sponsored by Iran. During this time, the Christian population has dropped 10%. The Syrian civil war spilling over into Lebanon will cause this number to increase.
In Syria, Christians comprise about 10% of the population. This 2.5 million population have been targeted and killed by rebels attempting to impose Shari’a law wherever they can. Because the Assad regime protected Christians and other minorities, they have now become the target. Of course, Syrian Christians will continue to immigrate to other countries.
Christians in Iraq discovered how dangerous life can become when a multicultural society explodes as happened after the American 2003 invasion. By 2008, half of the Christian population had left. In 2010, Salafist extremists attacked a Baghdad church and nearly killed or wounded the entire congregation. The so-called Arab Spring only exacerbates the situation.
The only bright spot in this history is Israel where Christians are safe. The only growing Christian community in the Middle East resides in Israel because this country protects diverse religious groups. As we to listen to the continuing conflicts in the Middle East, we need to keep this fact in mind.