This is the saddest Easter in the long epic of Arab Christianity: The cross is near extinction in the lands of it origin. The much-vaunted diversity of the Middle East is going to be reduced to the flat monotony of a single religion, Islam, and to a handful of languages.
In 1919, the Egyptian revolution adopted a green flag with the crescent and the cross. Both Muslims and Christians participated in the nationalist revolution against British colonialism. Now, according to the Egyptian Federation for Human Rights, more than 70 Christians a week are asking to leave the country due to Islamist threats.
The numbers are telling. Today there is only one Middle Eastern country where the number of Christians has grown: Israel. As documented in the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, the Christian community that numbered 34,000 people in 1949 is now 163,000-strong, and will reach 187,000 in 2020.
In the rest of the Middle East, the drive for Islamic purity is going to banish all traces of pre-Islamic pasts. This has affected not only Christians, but other non-Islamic communities too, such as the Zoroastrians and Baha’is in Iran (the late also found refuge in Israel, in Haifa.)
The silence of the global forums, the flawed conscience of human rights groups, the self-denial of the media and the Vatican’s appeasement is helping facilitate this Islamist campaign. According to a report on religious freedom compiled by the US Department of State, the number of Christians in Turkey declined from two million to 85,000; in Lebanon they have gone from 55% to 35% of the population; in Syria, from half the population they have been reduced to 4%; in Jordan, from 18% to 2%. In Iraq, they will be exterminated.
Should the exodus of Christians from Bethlehem continue in the next two or three decades, there may be no clergy left to conduct religious services in Jesus’ birthplace. In Iran, Christians have become virtually non-existent since 1979, when Khomeini ordered the immediate closure of all Christian schools. In Gaza, the 3,000 who remain are subjected to persecution. In Sudan, Christians in the South are forced into slavery.
Israel’s flag a symbol of hope
In Lebanon, the Maronites, the only Christians to have held political power in the modern Arab world, have been reduced to a minority because of Muslim violence and Hezbollah’s rise. In Saudi Arabia, Christians have been beaten or tortured by religious police. Benjamin Sleiman, archbishop of Baghdad, is talking about “the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East.”
The Christian Egypt was symbolically represented by former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a Christian married to a Jewish woman whose sister was the wife of Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban. In 1977, Boutros-Ghali, who was then Egypt’s foreign minister, accompanied President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem.
Sadat, who as a child had attended a Christian school, was killed because the treaty his signed with the “Zionists,” among other reasons, and his cold peace is now under attack from the new rulers in Cairo.
Should the Islamists prevail, the Middle East will be completely green, the colour of Islam. Under atomic and Islamist existential threats, the remnant of the Jewish people risks being liquidated before Israel’s centennial in 2048. It’s time for Christians to recognize that Israel’s survival is also critical and vital for them. During the Holocaust, when most Christians were bystanders or collaborators, the Yellow Star was a symbol of death for the Jews. Today, the white flag with the beautiful six pointed star is a symbol of survival and hope for both Jews and Christians.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism
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