Meanwhile in Iraq . . .

image1One of the most haunting books I have read recently is William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain in which he describes and experiences the decline of Christianity in the Middle East. What makes it so arresting is that he wrote the book in 1997; the dire situation he describes has only deteriorated in the years since. Headlines such as “Christians take flight in Mosul” add to the gloom. We are fast reaching the point when Christianity may die out in much of its homeland outside of a few monasteries and expat churches. Turkish nationalism, Zionism, and Islamic fundamentalism are killing it. The irony is that one of the best guarantors of Christianity in the region has been secular pan-Arab nationalism, the dismantling of which has been the project of the (Christian) West for the last decade. Here is the salient statistic: “The percentage of Christians in the Middle East was just 5% of the total population as of 2010 — down from 10% in 1900. ” A million Christian Iraqis have fled their homeland since 2003, many to Syria where, if they live under ISIS rule, life is going to look increasingly grim. The plight of all people in the Middle East is certainly a tragedy, but if even Christians in the West cannot muster any concern for their fellow believers, all hope is lost. For that reason, I support the Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action on Behalf of Christians and Other Small Religious Communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. More importantly, please consider asking your elected leaders to support it.

Comments

  1. Peter V says:

    Ronan, thanks for your insight which, in matters relating to the middle east, is always illuminating.

  2. Thanks, Peter.

  3. Christian J says:

    Ronan, my understanding, back during the recent US invasion, was that Christians (and women frankly) had a much better time under Saddam, than a lot of other Muslim dominated nations – and especially now. He being a secular Sunni. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Piling on the debacle that was (is) the Iraq War is easy enough – but not my point. Just observing that Christian liberty and safety in the Muslim world can come from unlikely places.

  4. “The irony is that one of the best guarantors of Christianity in the region has been secular pan-Arab nationalism, the dismantling of which has been the project of the (Christian) West for the last decade.”

    Such a grim, horrible irony.

  5. Christian J,
    Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant who imprisoned, tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

  6. Christian J says:

    Al, absolutely! And yet, even the regimes of sadistic tyrants can result in an increase in liberty for political pawns. I was making an observation on the complicated facts of recent Christian history in the ME, nothing more/less.

  7. Thank you for this important post. While visiting a Moravian church, they specifically prayed for Christians suffering in the Middle East (and a few other specific people being persecuted). I am embarrassed to say that I had to google it all when I got home.

    I was particularly impacted by the words of Patriarch Sako (quoted in the Pledge),
    “We feel forgotten and isolated. We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?”

    We can’t let it come to that.

  8. It saddens me that I almost missed this, in the groundswell of support for those being persecuted in our own faith. I often worry that our focus on missionary work blinds us to the needs of other Christians around the world, who are not LDS. I have had ward members in several wards ask me why I keep track of events in Israel, and include them in my public prayers. That I come from Jewish ancestors, most of whom did not survive the Nazi regime, seems to explain my interest, but it doesn’t seem to touch the hearts of others. Unless we have soldiers fighting in the area, my interest is seen as something accepted because of my family connection to Judaism, but not important to anyone else.

    It is obvious that I am not immune to being myopic. I have had peace in the Middle East a part of my meditation and prayers for many years, but I am not specifically praying for those Christians in the area. That will change today.

    Thank you for showing me my blindness, and giving an insight into an important issue that I might have otherwise missed. I will start by sharing this with my children, and we will write to our political leaders today.

    Thank you Ronan!

  9. Julia, thanks for your comment.

    Terrible story about a Christian family in Bethlehem being pushed off their land:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27883685

    The Christian plight in the Middle East is a combination of a thousand small injustices coupled with a handful of larger atrocities. Over and over again.

    These are are brothers and sisters in Christ and we don’t care. It’s a real shame.

  10. “The irony is that one of the best guarantors of Christianity in the region has been secular pan-Arab nationalism, the dismantling of which has been the project of the (Christian) West for the last decade.”

    This is so incredibly true. And it’s not just that Christianity has been pushed out but freedom of any religion besides very specific brands of Islam as well as the freedom of ideas.

  11. JackShark says:

    “The irony is that one of the best guarantors of Christianity in the region has been secular pan-Arab nationalism, the dismantling of which has been the project of the (Christian) West for the last decade.”

    Well said, Ronan.

    We can observe this taking place in Syria where support for Assad’s regime is growing among Orthodox Syrians (especially now that remaining rebel groups have been effectively radicalized by Islamists), as well as Egypt, where Coptic Christians overwhelmingly supported the 2013 military coup/revolution and later, President al-Sisi’s candidacy.

    The persecution of Christians in the West is an international outrage. As ancient churches and holy sites throughout the Arab world are bombed or torched, and as thousands of Syriac Christians, Copts, Assyrians, and other minority groups are disenfranchised and displaced (or worse), we are witnessing a rich Christian heritage being wiped clean from the face of the earth. It’s a terrible tragedy and it’s disappointing to see the West largely ignore it.

    Great post.

  12. Ronan, realistically speaking can anything be done? Isn’t it too late?

  13. JackShark says:

    FWIW, other religious minorities are also in danger of becoming merely a footnote in the long, bloody history of the Middle East.

    From the New York Times (http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/islamic-extremists-pose-new-risks-for-religious-minorities-in-iraq/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0)

    “The rise of Islamic fundamentalism more broadly has pushed thousands of Yazidis to seek asylum in Europe. According to some estimates, 70,000 people, or about 15 percent of the Yazidi population in Iraq, fled the country. For a religion that does not accept converts and strongly discourages exogamy, the assimilation of Yazidi youth in Europe threatens the faith’s continued existence.”

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