Both Pope and Patriarch are now worried about the fate of Middle East Christians and the ISIS threat. But is it too little, too late? Middle East Christians have been brutalized by regimes and Jihadists for over half a century. It was coming, it is here. We should have acted much earlier
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Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressed concerns about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East (at the hands of ISIS) and were worried "that the region was emptying from its Christians." This recognition is a start, and it speaks volumes that the spiritual leaders of 1.8 billion Christians decided to meet in Istanbul and alert the international community to the fate of more than 20 million Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq. But the signs have been there for decades—in Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Iran and throughout the region. One million South Sudanese (mostly Christians) have been slaughtered by the jihadists of Bashir and Turabi; 130,000 Lebanese Christians, including public figures, were killed by Assad, the PLO, and Hezbollah artilleries and military and terror machines; Coptic churches and villages were burned and demolished; church leaders were executed and jailed in Iran; and countless more crimes have been perpetrated against Christians in the Arab world for more than half a century. The think tanks and intellectuals of Western churches have ignored the saga of Middle East Christians for too long. Speeches about "general concerns" were made, but missing from the equation was effective action. Vatican diplomats witnessed the blitz by Baathist forces into the Christian free areas of Lebanon in 1990 and have tolerated the Iranian-Syrian domination of that country for decades. Unfortunately, Western churches, as institutions, when it came to the persecution of peoples in the Middle East, failed to rise to the same level of mobilization expressed during the Cold War for the peoples of Eastern Europe.
Eastern Churches have not addressed the threat any better. Many of these institutions refused to criticize the oppressive regimes and jihadi ideology alike. By fear or by political choice, most of these institutions claimed that "stability primes full freedom." It is only after the so-called Arab Spring and the physical elimination of entire communities by the most atrocious form of jihadism—at the hands of the ISIS Caliphate—that official Church institutions started to express "dramatic concerns," for no church can survive the vanishing of its people. But it is imperative that institutions catch up with the dramatic turn of events and elevate their narrative to reflect where the tragedy stands today. They need to reform their own vision of the Middle East and perceive the Christian communities in that part of the world as full citizens and their communities as independent, not as individuals living in fear and always "protected" by someone, whether regimes or foreign forces. It is reassuring to see the heads of the two largest denominations meeting in Constantinople and expressing concerns, but it would be more reassuring to hear them stating their support for freeing entire communities and for a freer Middle East, a Middle East where all peoples, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Yazidi, Bahai, and even the nonreligious, can enjoy full liberty and peace. It is time to end the suffering once and for all...
Dr Walid Phares is the author of The Lost Spring
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