The deadly bomb attacks in Christian districts of Iraq’s capital Baghdad on
Christmas Day caused the deaths of 37 people.
One bomb appeared to target
congregants leaving a Catholic church.
Last December, The Jerusalem Post
delved into the question “What do Mideast Christians face in 2013?” The results
were horrific and lethal.
In October, four Coptic Christians were riddled
with bullets in front of their church in Cairo, and the Islamic Republic of Iran
sentenced Christians to 80 lashes for drinking wine during communion and
operating a satellite television dish.
Also in 2013, Muslim Brotherhood
activists torched Egyptian churches and kidnapped Coptic Christians. Radical
Islamic extremists stamped out a Christian presence in the northern Syrian city
Jihadists are believed to be behind the kidnapping of 12 Syrian
Sadly, if past is prologue, next year will see continued waves of
bloody repression against a highly vulnerable minority in the Mideast.
a December Wall Street Journal book review of John L. Allen Jr.’s book
The Global War on Christians, the review quotes Allen Jr. saying Christians
“indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet.”
ongoing decimation of Middle East Christians prompted Prince Charles and Pope
Francis to spotlight the need to help struggling Christians in the
“It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in
the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist
Islamist militants,” said Charles.
In November, after meeting with
patriarchs from Syria, Iraq, and Syria, Pope Francis said: “We will not resign
ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians.”
There was a
growing trend – perhaps nearly a consensus – in 2013 that Islamic radicalism
poses the gravest threat to Christianity in the Middle East.
All of this
makes all the more bizarre the remarks of Justin Welby, the archbishop of
Canterbury, on Christmas.
“Today, singing of Bethlehem, we see injustices
in Palestine and Israel, where land is taken or rockets are fired, and the
innocent suffer,” said Welby.
In sharp contrast to Welby, the archbishop
of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said “Christians are the most widely persecuted
religious group in the world today, and this evening we think especially of the
Middle East, especially of Egypt, Iraq and Syria.”
Why Israel was singled
out by Welby in the midst of massive violence directed at Christians in Egypt,
Syria and Iraq is nothing short of perplexing.
After all, Israel’s
Christians are largely immune from the persecution and violence inflicted on
their fellow Christians in the heartland of the Middle East and other nations in
the greater Middle East (Pakistan and Nigeria).
Writing for the Fox News
opinion page, Lela Gilbert – who lives in Jerusalem – notes, “Some
Arabic-speaking Christians in Israel are well aware that they live in the
region’s only safe haven for their faith. And they have decided to do
more than give thanks.”
Gilbert, the author of Saturday People, Sunday
People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner and co-author, with
Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,
writes that Israeli Christians “want to defend their homeland, and a number of
them have chosen to take action. Not only do they want to serve in the IDF, but
they also are forming a political party and seeking reforms in Israel’s
educational system, insisting that its curriculum include Christian history
alongside that of Judaism and Islam.”
While Israel remains the principal
safe haven for Christians and the practice of their faith in the Middle East,
the situation is not perfect. There have been “price-tag” attacks on Christian
institutions in Israel and the disputed territories, including the scrawling of
anti-Christian graffiti on Christian worship sites.
To return to the
question of what Middle East Christian will face in 2014, times will likely grow
even tougher and more grueling for this persecuted minority in Muslim-majority
countries. The disengagement of the US and West from the Middle East will only
compound the misery of Middle East Christians.
Benjamin Weinthal reports
on Christians in the Middle East for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies.