Christians in the Middle East

Position Statement by the Lebanese Information Center

Presented to the IDC Inaugural Summit in Washington DC

09-04-2014 

 Christianity was born, raised, persecuted, and celebrated in the mountains and deserts of the Middle East. As their faith spread to all corners of the world, Christians have remained an integral part of the evolution of the Middle East, its populace, and its political systems.  Throughout centuries of hardship and prosperity, suffering and jubilation, conquest and liberation, the Christians have persevered and have established themselves as true partners in that land.  In Lebanon, in particular, the Christians have taught the whole world the true meaning of perseverance and have managed to make of their mountains a sanctuary for all those persecuted around them.

In recent years, the “Arab Spring” has shaken the region and the world.  The peoples of the Arab world have awoken and have decided to rid themselves of the dictatorships that have abused them and hindered their progress and freedom throughout their modern history.  Decades of oppression, however, had also created a very fertile ground for extremist ideologies to flourish under the guise of religious fervor. These fanatics are no better than the dictators themselves.  They teach hatred, brand all who do not share their radical line, whether non-Muslims or Muslims, as “infidels” and promote the spilling of their blood as a religious duty.

The rise of these extremists in the Arab World especially in the Levant has led many to argue that Christians have lost all prospects of security and that their future in the region is bleak at best.  In Syria, Christians are led to believe that they have two options: (a) support Assad because he will protect them or (b) surrender to the extremists who would “inevitably” replace him.   In Iraq, Christians are left with even bleaker options: (a) submit to the Caliphate State, pay the “Jizya” and live in complete submission; (b) convert to Islam; (c) flee and abandon their ancestral homes, culture and heritage or (d) die.

What the propagators of such arguments fail to acknowledge is that, be it in Iraq or Syria, all religious minorities as well as Muslim moderates are suffering alongside the Christians.  What they also fail to point out is that a radical religious regime is not the foregone alternative to dictatorships.  In fact, the Syrian revolution was sparked by people who wanted nothing but freedom and the right to self-determination.  Excessive deferment, the horrendous brutality of the regime and a shamefully lethargic international community are what allowed the extremists to become more prominent in the struggle.

The defeat of these virulent extremists is an absolute must, but their defeat will come neither from alignment with other forms of dictatorships, be it Assad in Syria or the Ayatollahs in Iran nor from the so-called “coalition of minorities.”  Their defeat can only come from the moderates in these countries aided by the international community.

Where does that leave the Christians in the Middle East and in Syria and Iraq in particular? 

At its core, Christianity is bearing witness to the truth.  True Christians, therefore, can never support or condone the brutal oppression of tyrannical regimes, such as that of Assad in Syria.  Furthermore, the argument that dictatorships can protect religious minorities is utterly false and misleading.  For more than three decades, the Lebanese, especially the Christians, had suffered death and destruction at the hands of the Baathist regime of the Assads and were subjected to the same savagery now being inflicted on the Syrian people. Indeed, far from protecting Christians – Iraqi Christians, for example – Bashar Assad harbored and aided the jihadists that incited chaos and inflamed sectarian divisions in neighboring Iraq.  These very same jihadists have now metamorphosed into the Caliphate State. 

What supporting the dictatorships might achieve, at the very best, is the delay but inevitable exacerbation of the problem.

Christians in Syria, Iraq and the rest of the Arab World have no option but to persevere, as have their ancestors before them.  They have to side with justice and bear witness to the truth because that is at the very core of what defines them.  They cannot support the oppressor nor can they stand idly by on the sidelines and wait for things to work in their favor.  They must take an active role, stand with the moderates among their compatriots and rebuild their respective countries together. 

The only real guarantee for the Christians and other minorities in the Middle East is in the establishment of democratic systems of government based on fundamental freedoms, equality and human rights.  These systems can never exist under self-proclaimed “secular” dictatorships or under religious extremist rule.   But these systems would also never come to be if the stakeholders stand on the sidelines, or worse, on the wrong side of history.

Meanwhile, the international community, particularly the United States, cannot remain mere observers while appalling crimes against humanity are committed in Syria and Iraq nor can they simply issue bland statements while allowing extremists to further consolidate their power and oppress the moderates.   The longer the atrocities continue, the easier it becomes for the extremists to radicalize more people and the longer the extremists maintain power, the harder it becomes for the moderates to replace them. 

The international community, with the United States at its helm, has a moral obligation and a critical interest in the matter.  No effort must be spared to bring an end to the massacres in Syria and Iraq and to actively support the voices of moderation and inclusiveness in the Arab world.  Failing to do so will ultimately result in a geographically and demographically massive breeding ground for radicals and terrorists. 

Then, not only would the Christians and minorities in that region suffer, but the rest of the world as well.

 

 

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