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24 January 2014

UK leaders sound alarm over persecution of Christians in the Middle East

 
The 2013 Christmas season brought with it the clarion call sounded by the Prince of Wales and a series of UK leaders over the dwindling population of Christians in the Middle East, where “Christianity was, literally, born.” Speaking at Clarence House in London, Prince Charles addressed religious leaders, following visits to both the Coptic Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox Churches.

“I have for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East. It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that they are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants,” Prince Charles stated clearly, while taking the lead in defense of Christianity by recognizing the grave situation Christians are facing and encouraging the world to stand against these atrocities. 

“We all lose something immensely and irreplaceably precious when such a rich tradition – dating back 2,000 years – begins to disappear,” he went on to say, in heartfelt remarks.

The problems facing Christians in the Middle East should not be taken as lightly as they seem to have been so far by world leaders. The former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, in his Christmas message published in The Sunday Telegraph writes about this saying, “I imagine that in the West our politicians think that because churches have until recently been in extraordinarily powerful opinion-forming positions, they cannot possibly be pictured as a persecuted minority. 

Yet far from being important and influential, in many parts of the world Christianity is weak and despised, and Christians are attacked and killed. In Nigeria, churches are firebombed; in Pakistan, churchgoers are prosecuted under draconian blasphemy laws, while in Egypt, they are either marginalized or assaulted.” Turning his attention to the problems Christians are also facing in the West, he then observes, “Closer to home, I admit I am worried about the future of faith in the West. Many Christians I meet say there is a pressure on them to be silent about their faith.”

As the situation for Christians in the Middle East seems to be worsening, embracing the word “persecution” when describing the ongoing atrocities in the region is apparently not something that the general public is willing to do. The majority opinion is still one which allows for so many media outlets to ignore the true scale and origin of the matter.

The deliberate targeting by “fundamentalist Islamist militants” that Prince Charles spoke of is graphically and statistically supported by Open Doors’ recently released 2014 World Watch List reporting on the 50 worst nations persecuting Christians around the world. CBN News contributor Raymond Ibrahim writes that “those persecuting Christians in 41 of 50 nations are Muslims.” 

Douglas Alexander, British labor party politician and shadow foreign secretary places today’s dire matters in perspective when he points out that “Across the Middle East, Christians have lived for almost two millennia in the place their faith was born…Indeed, the Ottoman Empire, which spanned much of today’s modern Middle East, was a multicultural state, with Christians cohabiting alsongside Shia, Sunni, Jews, Alawites and Druze.”

The interventions of the former archbishop of Canterbury and Prince Charles, particularly at Christmas, may have helped in showing how serious the matter truly is and how one should not presuppose it to be a fleeting incident. Even so, one can only wonder how much longer Christians are to be subjected to such suffering before their brutal treatment is recognized for the outrageous and futile tragedy it really is?

One of the biggest problems that Western society faces when it comes to unveiling the truth seems to be that of political correctness. Douglas Alexander talks about the threat such overzealous pseudo attempts at protecting certain freedoms can represent. “In the UK today, perhaps through a misplaced sense of political correctness, or some sense of embarrassment at ‘doing God’ in an age when secularism is more common, too many politicians seem to fear discussing any matters related to faith,” he states in the The Sunday Telegraph, making reference to Alastair Campbell’s memorable interruption of one of Tony Blair’s interviews by adding “we don’t do God” in order to prevent the then prime minister from talking about his faith.

Douglas Alexander also adds that “just like anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, anti-Christian persecution must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith.” This seems to be the issue which has become a leitmotiv when it comes to defending a Christian’s right to worship. 

Defending religious freedom appears to be the socially excepted norm; however, this doesn’t always seem to be the case when Christianity is involved. Even though such a defense would only mean that all religions would be treated equally, or as Douglas Alexander observed, it would mean “not to support one faith over another – it is to say that persecution and oppression of our fellow human beings in the name of any god or ideology is never acceptable and is morally repugnant.”

The conservative Telegraph reports that Prime Minister David Cameron attempts to join the conversation praising Christian volunteerism or what he refers to nebulously as “Big Society.”
“Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other areas of the Holy Land sometimes overflow with tears. We won’t resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians who for two thousand years confess the name of Jesus, as full citizens in social, cultural, and religious life of the nations to which they belong,” Pope Francis declared recently in meetings with several Eastern rite leaders, including Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Egypt.

But is the West turning the proverbial blind eye to all of these events? Is Christianity being deliberately targeted for destruction not only through persecution in places like the Middle East but also through the “keep silent about your faith so you don’t offend anyone” policy that the West has been taking part in for some time?

London’s Sunday Telegraph editorialized on the eve of Christmas that “Christian freedoms are worth fighting for.” Where are the New York Times and the Washington Post on this vital issue of our day? So, we must be grateful for those courageous media, religious, political and royal leaders in the UK for speaking up on behalf of Christianity during the Christmas season; and, yes, thank you Prince Charles for taking the lead.

On the one hand, the persecution Christians are faced with in the Middle East is rapidly deplenishing the region of this religion by killing or driving away believers. On the other hand, political correctness is slowly but surely seeping into the very fabric of Western Civilization and making this part of the world more and more immune to the suffering of people and the significance of the atrocities that are taking place. 

The way in which Christians are looked upon in the Middle East today by “fundamentalist Islamist militants” is no different than any other past example of inhumanity which plagued the world with its horrors, not so long ago. One can only hope that the term Christian will not become readily accepted by the West, the way it seems to have been in other regions, as another historical equivalent of the Holocaust’s “Untermensch” or of Rwanda’s “cockroach.” Indeed, where are the governments representing these 41 of 50 Muslim nations specified on the Open Doors’ 2014 World Watch List, and why are they silent?

Some Christians in the Middle East may have lived through another Christmas, yet, despite this, sad, somber questions lurk in the dark corner of a future that is almost upon them and, ultimately, through the burden of brotherly love and responsibility, upon us all: “Will the birthplace of Christianity still be a home for Christians in the future? What will the world lose if Christian tradition is lost in the region? Should we even dare to contemplate such a future?”

Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied European, International and Romanian law. Her thesis on the UN and global governance was completed at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest. She is currently a Masters candidate for International and European Law at the Nicolae Titulescu University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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