The massacre of Christians at a Baghdad Church last month has suddenly focused western attention on the pitiful plight of Middle East Christians. But most media coverage ignores the fact that discrimination against Christians and Jews is institutionalised, even in 'secular' Arab lands. Read my post on Comment is Free Watch:
The atrocity at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in which 52 Christians were murdered has set off a flurry of articles about Christians under threat of extinction in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda has declared Arab Christians a legitimate target. Even Robert Fisk of The Independent is sounding the alarm about a flight of Christians of Biblical proportions – and that was before the massacre.
First the Saturday people – now the Sunday people. Jews have been virtually wiped out in Muslim lands. Now it’s the turn of the ancient Christian communities. Forty percent of the Assyrian Christian population of Iraq has fled since the fall of Saddam.
“Shhhh! “– whispers Middle East analyst Chris Phillips on CIF. Reports of the death of the Christian communities of the Middle East are greatly exaggerated: they will only ’ escalate fears of potential persecution’. Let’s not talk about the imminent demise of the Christian minorities, or radicals will start believing in the ‘clash of civilisations’.
I hate to break it to you, Mr Phillips – but radicals already believe it. They virtually shout ‘clash of civilisations’ from their mosques and minarets. Their ideology pits Dar-al Islam in a holy war or jihad against the infidels of Dar-al Harb. And in case Phillips had not noticed, it is radical Islam which has declared war on non-Muslims, not the other way around. Radical islamists have been around since the 1930s, burning down Coptic churches and Jewish homes and shops in Egypt. The massacre of Christians is not new either – some 3,000 Assyrian Christians were murdered in Iraq in 1933. Since then the Assyrians have thought only of emigrating.
The gist of Phillips’ argument is that not all Arab countries should be tarred with the brush of intolerance: “ Though anti-Christian feeling may be rising on the extreme radical fringe of sole Arab societies such as Iraq, this should not obscure the harmony that has long been a characteristic of other parts of the Arab world.”
‘Secular’ Arab regimes in particular treat their Christians as well as any totalitarian dictatorships could, it is claimed. As evidence, Phillips cites the fact that most of Iraq’s displaced Christians have fled not to the West but to Arab states, notably Syria and Jordan. It is true that the ruling Alawite minority – considered heretical by Sunni Muslims - likes to show solidarity with the Christian minority in Syria. Ten percent of Syria’s population are Christians, religious festivals are observed and the state even gives free electricity and water to churches, Phillips tells us.
In spite of Syrian ‘tolerance’, Phillips does recognise that numbers in Syria have been dwindling. But he does not say that since the late 1960s private Christian schools have been suppressed, nor that the Armenian Christians of Syria are leaving at a particularly high rate: the government has banned their associations, publications, the teaching of their language and their political party.
Phillips tells us that in Jordan, the monarch sees itself as the protector of the six percent of Jordan’s population who are Christians; they are given limited political rights. However, there is plenty of evidence that displaced Iraqi refugees view Jordan as a way-station to a third country of asylum – namely, the US. The refugees -and by no means all are Christian – complain bitterly that as non-residents they are not permitted to work or are paid exploitative wages. Only those with $100,000 to spare can obtain Jordanian residency rights.
It was the ‘secular’ regime under Gamal Abdul Nasser which did most to marginalise the Copts, now barely 10 percent of Egypt’s population. They are not allowed to repair their churches without government permission, let alone build new ones. Ever since the 1950s, the Copts have been persecuted, murdered, their women kidnapped and forcibly converted. Copts have been leaving Egypt for decades.
It is fashionable to claim that the Christians were well treated under the ‘secular’ Baathist regime in Iraq. Saddam Hussein did appoint the Chaldean Christian Tariq Aziz as foreign minister, but he was an exception. Christians have long ago been on the political margins in Iraq: the National assembly of 1984 included just four Christians among 250 members.
The apologetics kick in big time when Philips picks up Fisk’s spurious argument that demographics could explain the flight of Christians: they tend to have smaller families than Muslims – and in any case, they have been emigrating from the Middle East since the 19th century. Does Philips stop to ask why? Could the D-word have something to do with it?
The D-word is not one you’ll see much on Comment Is Free. ‘D’ stands for Dhimmi, a term designating the inferior status of Christians and Jews under Islam. It is a status that accounts for the fact that dirty jobs were the preserve of the dhimmi: Christians alone were assigned the task of clearing septic tanks in Iraq and still today, the task of collecting the rubbish in Egyptian cities is reserved for the Christian Copts. They would feed the rubbish to their pigs, until the latter were recently culled in a spiteful measure to eradicate swine flu. In Yemen, where there were no Christians, it fell to the Jews, until their mass flight in 1949 – 50, to clean the public latrines.
No matter how many Jordanians, according to Chris Phillips, say they don’t feel Muslim in a poll, Islam is a major source of law in all Muslim-majority countries. This puts all non-Muslim minorities at a disadvantage. Even in Jordan a Christian woman married to a Muslim cannot inherit from her husband, for instance, and Christians are subject to a raft of other inequalities. While Christians are given every encouragement to convert to Islam, the traffic is strictly one-way. Last week, ‘secular’ Pakistan became the latest country to sentence a Christian woman to death for blasphemy.
While the spectre of belligerent Islamism hovers over the Middle East and North Africa, non-Muslims are at terrible risk. Neither will they ever be treated as equals as long as discrimination against non-Muslims is institutionalised. That’s why the Chris Phillipses of this world, with their delusions of Muslim-Christian harmonious coexistence, are whistling in the wind.
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Ed West (Daily Telegraph blog) (with thanks: bh)