26 June 2014
In this image from last fall, a woman in Lebanon clutching a rosary prays for peace.
(photo: CNS/Hasan Shaaban, Reuters)
Elizabeth Scalia, the managing editor of the Catholic portal at the spiritual website Patheos, asked me to share some thoughts with her readers about the worsening crisis among Christians in the Middle East.
The picture is grim:
Today’s headlines are dramatic; the emotion raw: “Middle East Christians Feel Abandoned.” “Beleaguered Christians Make Final Stand.” “Christians Wonder if it is Time to Leave.” “Christians Last Journey.”
As the artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East collapses, millions of lives are altered irrevocably and indiscriminately each day: young and old, male and female, city sophisticate and nomadic shepherd, Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Armenian, rich and poor. In Iraq and Syria — by far the largest states in the region created by the Western Allied powers after their victory in World War I — the pressure cookers once controlled by strongmen have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even Al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq — once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves — has disintegrated, its people exhausted by more than 25 years of constant war. Syria — once the bedrock of regional stability — has crumbled, its people displaced and maimed. Meanwhile, extremist militias overrun vast swaths of devastated territory to restore an Islamist empire akin to those that dominated the region for centuries.
Middle East Christians bear the brunt of these brutalities. Though descendants of those who first received the Gospel almost 600 years before the advent of Islam, Christians are perceived by the extremists as imports from the West and, therefore, as enemies of Islam. Spread from Egypt to Iraq, and numbering no more than 15 million, Middle East Christians possess neither powerful allies supplying arms, nor an exclusivist ideology capable of rallying and uniting a diverse community with distinct traditions, rites and histories. And so to survive, Middle East Christians do what they have always done during similar waves of violence in their long history: they head for the hills.
Observers describe the current wave of violence in the Middle East, and the flight of its minorities — especially its Christians — as an existential threat. Can the Middle East survive without its Christians and other minorities? Sure, but can a region thrive though overwhelmed by extremist ideologies at odds with mainstream Muslims?
Check out Elizabeth Scalia’s blog, The Anchoress, for more.
To help Iraq’s besieged Christians, visit this page. And remember them, please, in your prayers.