Middle East Christian Conundrum and the Need for a US Awakening
It is a fact that we are witnessing today a major metamorphosis in the makeup of Islamic powers in the Middle East that threatens to destabilize the region and the world. After WWII, the Middle East emerged from imperial rule giving rise to self-rule by the individual countries. Unfortunately, many of these countries were not ready for self-rule, and quickly became dictatorships that abused their people forcing many of them into the arms of religious zealots.
Trillions of Petrodollars have been spent to spread the Wahhabi radical Islamic teachings over the past four decades, tolerated by the West for too long as a means to counter Soviet Influence in the region. This process has also contributed directly and indirectly to the rise of the Mullahs in Iran. However, the radicalizations process did not stop with the down fall of the Soviet Union, but rather accelerated with weakening of the dictators, leading to the global threat we face today.
In a nutshell, the Middle East today is made up of unstable autocratic regimes that can collapse at any moment, and populations that are by and large highly radicalized. With ISIS losing ground in Iraq and Syria, the zealots will seek refuge among hardline Islamic communities in other countries. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a scenario where many of the Gulf monarchies start falling one after the other and get replaced by openly Islamist rule and Sharia law.
Radical Islam, is arguably the most insidious of ideologies our planet has ever faced. Like other threats of the past including Nazism, Communism and Fascism, they are not content to just rule, but aim to eliminate in the most brutal ways anyone who does not agree with them and will not rest until they impose their ideology all over the world or be fully eradicated.
Unlike political ideologies, Radical Islam invokes the will of God and addresses a population that is indoctrinated to obey that will. This allows the movement to reach deeper into society than any other, silence the majority, and bring brutal retribution towards any detractors.
Moderate Moslems are hard pressed to counter the extremely well-funded, armed and determined zealots. But religious minorities are the ones at real risk of annihilations as we have seen in Iraq and parts of Syria.
Middle East Christians
Middle Eastern Christians have been repetitively persecuted by Islamists since the rise of the Islamic conquest from the Arabian Peninsula. Shortly after the time of Christ and until the rise of Islam, Christianity was the dominant religion from Turkey to Egypt and even in parts of the Arabian Peninsula, including today’s Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Middle Eastern Christians, Jews, and other minorities have continuously inhabited the Middle East for over 2000 years possessing some of the oldest civilizations that far predate Islam.
Prior to the recent genocide by ISIS, persecution of Middle East Christians has been well documented. The latest large scale genocide occurred in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire around 1915 where millions of Armenians, Assyrians, Syriacs and other local Christian communities were essentially wiped out of large areas of Turkey and parts of Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
That genocide effectively ended the Christian character of the fertile crescent with the exception of Lebanon.
Almost to the year, 100 years after that mass genocide, the surviving members of these communities in Syria and Iraq were subjected again to genocide at the hand of ISIS.
In the interim, the Lebanon war was spear-headed by Islamists intent on eliminating the only remaining country in the region where Christians possessed full and equal rights. The Arab-Israeli war is in large part an Islamic rejection of the “other”.
Currently, there remains about 14-15 million Middle East Christians. About 9 million are Coptic Christians in Egypt. This community, at 10% of the population is routinely attacked and harassed by local Islamists, and have recently received the brunt of the attacks by ISIS and the Moslem Brotherhood since the Arab Spring. The US has pressed the Egyptian Government to protect the rights of the Copts to some extent, but often fails to follow through. The Sisi Government has acted a little better as it battles ISIS and the Brotherhood, but the Copts continue to largely lack the full protection of law they deserve. The Egyptian government is heavily dependent on US aid, which should be contingent on their protection of basic human rights for the Coptic population.
Of the remaining Middle East Christians, more than 2 million live in Lebanon, the only country in the region where Christians have full political and civil rights, and not ruled as a Moslem state. Lebanese Christians are relatively the most secure of the Middle East Christians, however, that position has been under attack for decades and remains in jeopardy today. The relative security and power afforded the Christians post-independence from France has been eroded by a combination of loss of majority and political influence as well as a devastating war and external pressure. The Lebanese Christian numbers have been dwindling as a result of lower birth rates than the Lebanese Muslim communities and emigration to the western world. Many who of those remaining in Lebanon are forced to seek employment and business opportunities in the Gulf due to political and economic pressures on the country.
Combined with extensive pressure from Arab countries and lack of support from the West, this loss has contributed to the relative marginalization of Lebanese Christians and the rise of Islamists including Hezbollah.
The recent cooperation among the main Christian political parties is leading to a reassertion of their political rights. However, success requires solid and unmitigated support from the West, particularly the US, without which their success remains in doubt.
The remaining Middle East Christians live in disparate communities stretched across Syria and Iraq mostly, with some communities in Jordan, and Israel (proper and occupied territory). Those Christians live at the mercy of Islamic leaders, and are in constant peril. So desperate their conditions that they cling to brutal dictators as the lesser evil than the Islamic rule that may replace them.
Sadly, the Arab spring proved them right. Many Christian refugees dread returning to their homes after the defeat of ISIS out of fear that their Governments will not protect them.
The gulf countries have no indigenous Christian populations but a fairly sizeable Middle Christian work force. However, those are foreign guest workers with no rights and no long term prospects. Without a secure home to return to, their future is unknown.
Moderate Moslems have been steadily losing ground to Islamists for decades. The reasons are more numerous than this paper allows. However, it is important to note that segregated societies empower radicals and weaken Moderates,
Moderate Moslems benefit from the Christian presence and capitalize on it in their struggle against the Islamists, which is the reason ISIS is focused on eliminating any vestige of coexistence that fosters moderation and openness.
Mideast Peace and Israel
Israel’s security is constantly threatened by both internal and external forces. Radical Islam, both Sunni as well as Shia is a major threat to Israel. While the more recent threats have been on Iran and Hezbollah, one cannot ignore what the radicalization of ISIS is doing to the surrounding countries as well as indigenous Muslim population of Israel and the occupied territories. Considering the numerical superiority of Sunnis compared to Shia and their proximity to Israel, if Islamists rule the region Israel’s security will be in serious peril.
Middle Eastern Christians have lost hope that they can rely on Muslim governments to protect their indigenous Christian populations. It has also become clear, that it is a very daunting task to protect members of a minority who are living in small communities scattered over vast areas of land across different countries.
Many Iraqi, Syrian, Jordanian and Palestinian Christians and to a lesser extent Egyptian Copts view Lebanon’s Christians as the pole bearers of Christianity in the region, the only place where Christianity is relatively secure.
However, Lebanon is at risk of losing this status. In spite of the fact that most Lebanese Moslems reject radicalism, the massive number of Moslem refugees along with Arab pressure and funding is threatening to undo the country. Economic, Political and refugee pressure threaten to accomplish what 15 years of war failed to accomplish – eliminate the Christians from Lebanon.
The US needs real allies in the region to rely on beyond the whims of a few monarchs, whose populations are radicalize and may potentially turn the country upside down at any time. We need countries where the population at large is allied with us
Middle East peace between Israel and its neighbors requires moderate free societies willing to accept others as equal partners. Countries where freedom of religion is respected.
The example of the creation of the state of Israel can provide us with a roadmap to solving many of the problems outlined above.
A strong Christian community will also energize moderate Moslems to further weaken radicals and help spread moderation into the region rather than allow radicalism to consume Lebanon.