But some of the region's bishops urge Christians to work with Muslims for free and tolerant society
The Middle East is losing its ancient Christian heritage. When Iraq was invaded in 2003, 1.5 million Christians were living there. Now the figure is 400,000 and falling. The savagery of the Islamic State has accelerated the Christian exodus.
Mosul, about 400 kilometres to the north of Baghdad, was captured by IS in June last year. Ten years ago it had about 60,000 Christians. Now there are none. IS gave them an ultimatum: conversion or death. For the first time in 1,600 years there was no Christmas in Mosul.
In the wake of horror stories like this in the media, many in the West have denounced Islam as a malevolent religious virus, a barbaric creed. But how have the Christians who live there responded? Not exactly as their Western defenders might expect.
Many have fled. Others favour a policy of isolating themselves and forming their own political parties. Other abjure their history and call themselves Arameans, Phoenicians, Copts or Chaldeans – anything but Arab. But there is another, more positive, reaction. Two impressive recent Catholic documents have issued calls for solidarity with persecuted Muslims, and, unbelievably, hope.
Last year the Catholic bishops of the Holy Land (there are several overlapping jurisdictions, based on their liturgical tradition), issued a pastoral letter which called upon Arab Christians to work with Muslims. Their writ runs only as far as Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus, but they were addressing all Arab Christians in the Middle East. Their gloomy view was that no help can be expected from the West:
Unlike many critics of Muslim extremism in the West, the bishops reminded their compatriots that Christians are not the only ones who are suffering:
Furthermore, the bishops admitted that some Christians had purchased safety at the expense of justice by cosying up to the secular regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Bashir al-Assad in Syria.