What is causing the wave of violence that seems to be overwhelming the Middle East right now? I explore that question and more this week in the pages of The Dialog, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington:
“The situation on the ground [in Gaza] is horrific. The attack on the Shajaia neighborhood yesterday [July 20] was very ugly and left 50 dead (including 17 children, 14 women and 4 senior citizens) as well as 210 wounded and 70,000 displaced. … “Those who visited the neighborhood during the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire yesterday reported bodies of women and children scattered in the narrow streets. …
“The Latin and Greek Orthodox parishes have opened facilities to receive those displaced mostly from Shajaia. There has not been any human loss affecting Christians, and property damage is limited to broken glass and minor damage. Let’s hope it remains this way. The most serious damage to the community is clearly psychological.
“We are continuously assessing the situation and continue to pray for an end to this madness.”
In just a few sentences, Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Palestine and Israel, describes the madness engulfing much of the Middle East, and the role of its Christian community as menders of the body and soul — even as some of its own members flee their homes.
What accounts for this wave of violence? Is there any hope?
The artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East, with its national borders drawn arbitrarily by the British and French after World War I, is collapsing. This is irrevocably and indiscriminately affecting the lives of millions ofpeople every day: Arab and Israeli, Jew and Christian, Muslim and Mandaean, young and old, male and female, urban dweller and shepherd, rich and poor.
In Iraq and Syria, the largest states created from the smoldering remains of the Ottoman Turkish Empire nearly a century ago, the powder kegs 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, is unraveling, its people exhausted by more than 30 years of constant war.
Syria, once the bedrock of regional stability, has disintegrated, its people maimed and displaced. Meanwhile, extremist Sunni Muslim militias have overrun vast swaths of territory and proclaimed a caliphate, an empire akin to those that once dominated the region for centuries. They have targeted minorities: As the extremists drive Christians from their homes and monasteries, they rob them of their few remaining possessions. If captured, members of the ancient Gnostic and synchretic sects of northern Iraq are executed.
In reports that sound eerily similar to the death marches of Armenians and Assyro-Chaldeans by Turkish soldiers 100 years ago, residents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul describe an exodus of Christians walking on foot in the summer heat, among them the elderly and the disabled.
“We’re providing people with shelter, food and water; people don’t have anything left and they can’t travel without the money to buy tickets,” Chorbishop Yosip Benjamin told the Telegraph as Mosul’s last remaining Christians gathered in the town of Tel Keif.