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Christians are Disappearing from the Middle East


Michael Cook - published on 01/22/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Oddly, at least to Western readers, they even lamented the use of the word “persecution” because it marginalized the suffering of many Muslims:

…the repetition of the word “persecution” in some circles (usually referring only to what Christians suffer at the hands of criminals claiming to be Muslims) plays into the hands of extremists, at home and abroad, whose aim is to sow prejudice and hatred, setting peoples and religions against one another.

Instead of setting Christians and Muslims at loggerheads, the bishops urged their flock to work together to build countries where human dignity will be respected:

Christians and Muslims need to stand together against the new forces of extremism and destruction. All Christians and many Muslims are threatened by these forces that seek to create a society devoid of Christians and where only very few Muslims will be at home. All those who seek dignity, democracy, freedom and prosperity are under attack. We must stand together and speak out in truth and freedom.

A video released in December last year about the situation of the Catholic Church in Iraq

After the atrocities in Paris, where terrorists killed 17 people earlier this month, many Westerners might find this call for solidarity with persecuted Muslims baffling. Isn’t Islam a religion of violence, a “death cult”? 

But both of these documents advise Christians not to solve the conundrum of what constitutes authentic Islam, but to work with Muslims of good will, of whom there are many. This is one of the themes in a fascinating article in the latest issue of the Jesuit magazine 
La Civiltà Cattolica. The author is 
David Neuhaus, an Israeli Jew who converted and later became a Jesuit priest. He works in Israel with Hebrew-speaking Catholics. His message is that Christian must not give in to fear when faced with extremism. They must not regard all Muslims as enemies.

Fear does not know fine distinctions however. It is essential that Christians study each current of political Islam in detail. The Islamic movements in Iraq and Syria are diverse and divided, these movements cannot be simply assimilated to the Islamic movements in Egypt and Palestine. Murder and programmatic displacement of Christians cannot be assimilated to demands that Islamic symbols be respected and prioritized. Emptying Mosul and the plain of Nineveh of Christians is not the same as Muslims demanding that their daughters be allowed to wear a head covering (hijab) in Christian schools in Jerusalem.

Fear leads to isolation and self-absorption. Even if Christians are being slaughtered, exiled and humiliated, they have to recognize that other groups are also suffering at the hands of the Islamic State:

First and foremost, it must be recognized that the first victims of Islamic extremism are Muslims who do not agree with the vision of the extremists. More Muslims have been murdered by the extremists than Christians, more Muslims have fled in fear. Secondly, other minorities, for example Yazidis, Druze and Alawis, are at greater risk than Christians because their religious faith and practice are seen as beyond any acceptable Muslim vision of diversity.

In fact, Fr Neuhaus argues, these calamities offer an opportunity for engagement with Muslims of good will. In the past outreach through schools and hospitals has given Christianity immense prestige in the Arab world. In the Gaza Strip, for instance, 98 percent of the students in Christian schools are Muslim.

After all the disasters of the last decade, what makes him so hopeful? It is not political calculation, but faith and a determination to be a witness to powerful human values in Christianity. “Faith is the only sure way beyond fear and isolation to openness and service, seeking Christ and following him as he goes out in ever widening circles.”

Michael Cook
is editor of MercatorNet where this article was originally published.

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CatholicismChristians in the Middle EastIraq
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