If you haven’t noticed lately, Christians in the Middle East are disappearing. The religious wars raging in the entire region are taking a deepening toil. The decline has two main causes: emigration and declining birth rates.
The irony of the May 24 visit of Pope Francis has highlighted this problem. The percent of Christians in the Middle East is now 5% of the total population. In 1900, it was 10%. The pope’s hope had been to call attention to the problems of violence and growing religious intolerance that has created the situation. Unfortunately, this laudable intention can do little to halt the rising tide of hostility surging across Middle Eastern countries. Good people are running from bad treatment.
For example, Bethlehem in 1995 was 80% Christian. Today, it does well to claim 30% of a Christian population. For the first time in nearly two millennia, the little town of Bethlehem no longer has a Christian majority. Christians in Jerusalem once outnumbered Muslims, but today the Christians are only 2% of the population.
Here’s other examples. In Turkey, Christians once had a population of 2 million. Today only a few thousand remain. Go further South. One-half of the Christians in Iraq have left. Where Christians were once a third of the population in Syria, they are now less than 10%. Prior to Israel’s war of independence, Ramallah was 90% Christian. Today it is a Muslim city.
Egypt has become a good example of the problem. Fundamentalist Muslims constantly target Christians. The situation is similar to the West Bank where Muslims boycott Christian businesses. If these problems continue, bv 2020, the Middle East’s 12 million Christians will drop to 6 million. At this rate, Christians will disappear as a cultural and political force in the foreseeable future.
The problem is often not mentioned about Muslim countries for fear of sounding racist. Nevertheless, converts from Islam to Christianity risk being killed in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, and Iran. In other countries they risk severe legal reprisals. Shadi Hami, a fellow of the Brookings Instruction, notes that in religiously conservative societies there is a constant desire for the mixing of religion and politics – not less. To put it another way, if given the choice of selecting a democratic form of government, in a democratic election, they would not vote for the democratic process.
Consequently, the West is caught in a dilemma and a bind. Contrary to democratic values, recognizing this problem in a public and formal manner sounds prejudicial and contrary to the liberal spirit that recognizes all religions as having an equal place in society. On the other hand, the Muslim world is simply not inclusive. Even politically conservative states like Oklahoma went to court to oppose Sharia Law after a vast number of voters indicated they didn’t want the Muslim system to function in their state. They lost.
Even describing this problem makes me feel uncomfortable. The issues feel too intolerant. Nevertheless, the facts remain what they are. The Western world must wake up to this dimension of the problem. The conservative, fundamentalist Muslims consider themselves to be at war with Christians and Western values. Not to pay attention to the facts is to risk being devastated –just as the Middle Eastern Christian are today.