Christian minorities a casualty of the Arab Spring



Christian minorities a casualty of the Arab Spring – 



Christian minorities are facing unprecedented fear and exodus in the Middle East. Churches and clergy are being attacked as they become casualties of the Arab Spring and anti-Western sentiment, writes Joseph Wakim.

Emerging democracies in the ‘Arab Spring’ may have claimed an innocent casualty: Christian minorities.

If the crudest consequence of elections is ‘majority rules’, then minorities need protection. Westerners who laud the ‘Arab Spring’ cannot have it both ways, waving the carrot of democracy with one hand while waving a big stick with the other hand if Islamic values prevail. While a constitution may enshrine safeguards, this depends on who constitutes the majority.

As protestor Dalia Youssef declared from Tahrir Square after the recent en masse toppling of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, “the voice of the majority of people in any country is democracy.”

The consequences of ‘majority rules’ haunts the original Middle East Christians since the crucifixion itself. When Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked the assembled masses to choose between two prisoners, the majority ruled that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Despite the injustice and the manipulations, the man on the throne merely washed his hands and turned away. The besieged Christians of the Middle East fear that this history may be repeating itself.

Those who live in majority Muslim nations are facing unprecedented fear and exodus as their churches and clergy are attacked. As a Maronite Catholic who was born in Lebanon, it astounds me that the birthplace of Christianity and the indigenous descendants of the first Christians are not afforded better protection, compared with Saudi Arabia and Israel. I have even been asked “are there still Christians in the Middle East?” It would be a tragedy if this was no longer an ignorant question but a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The statistics are staggering: A century ago, one in five Arabs were Christian, whereas now they number one in 20.

The sectarian war in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion has halved the Christian population to less than 400,000.

In October 2006, Orthodox priest Fr Boulos Iskander was kidnapped, held to ransom, then beheaded in Mosul. Another 17 priests and 2 bishops have been kidnapped since then. The terror has culminated in the Al Qaeda-linked attack of Our Lady of Salvation Chaldean Catholic Church in Karrada in November 2010, killing more than 50 parishioners and two priests during a Sunday sermon. Iraqi Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael declared that this attack was “an attempt to force Iraqi Christians to leave Iraq and to empty Iraq of Christians.”

In Egypt, Al Qiddissine (Two Saints) Coptic Church in Alexandria was attacked by suicide bombers as parishioners were leaving the midnight mass on January 1, 2011, killing 23 people. Another 13 Copts were killed in violent clashes after Shahedin Church was burnt south of Cairo in March 2011.

On September 30, 2011, the dome and bell of St George Coptic Church in Edfu were burnt to the ground. Hence, the 8 million Coptic Christians in Egypt have a litany of reasons to feel more vulnerable than ever in their own homeland.

The anti-Christian embers spread across the border to Libya, where a Coptic church was bombed near Misrata on December 30, 2012. Another Coptic church was attacked by armed Muslim militants in Benghazi on 28 February 2013.

In Syria, over 300,000 Christians have already fled in fear as foreign jihadists terrorise the ‘infidels’ in pursuit of a Salafist state. Saudi sheiks subsidise these salafists even though this US-ally has no churches to bomb as they are prohibited.

On April 22, 2013, two Orthodox bishops were kidnapped by armed men from Kafr Dael, a rebel-controlled area in Syria. Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Bishop Boulos Yazigi, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, remain missing. During her first visit to Australia last October, peace activist Mother Agnes Mariam declared that that the foreign infiltration of Syria harbors a “a hidden will to empty the Middle East of its Christian presence.” The sectarian strife is now spilling over from Syria into Lebanon, where Christians are already a shrinking minority of about 34 per cent compared with the last census in 1932 when they constituted half the population.

In his timely book ‘Christianophobia’, British journalist Rupert Shortt highlighted the plight of Christian minorities in seven Muslim-majority countries. He warns that the eradication of Christians from their biblical heartland may be a ‘blind spot’ for those who are distracted by the ‘Arab Spring.’ He posits that their persecution is magnified by anti-Americanism and the false belief that Christianity is a ‘Western creed’

Indeed, Christian minorities may have become scapegoats and held to ransom for the ‘crusade’ declared by US president George W Bush during the ‘war on terror.’ Many of the anti-Christian attacks in Arab lands have been ‘justified’ as revenge for anti-Muslim attacks by Christians in the West, such as Florida pastor Terry Jones who burnt the Koran in 2011.

It is the height of arrogance to laud Arab societies for ‘importing’ western ideologies of democracy, when in fact the new generation of Arabs have their own aspirations and ideologies. Ironically, it is the importing of ideologies of theocracy from US-allied Gulf states that has hijacked the pro-democracy uprisings, but rarely registered on the Western radar. Indeed, it is these ideologies of sectarian supremacy, rather than Islam or Muslims per se, that pose the biggest threat of extinction to the indigenous Christians.

If the Christian Arabs were an endangered species of whales, there would be collective outrage, rescue efforts and intervention by the International Court of Justice.

Joseph Wakim established the Streetwork Project for exploited children in Adelaide Australia in 1986, was appointed Victorian Multicultural Affairs Commissioner in 1991, and founded the Australian Arabic Council in 1992.

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