Much about the direction and likely outcome of the so-called “Arab Spring” remains heavily obscured; but one feature of this story is already absolutely clear: the Christian communities of the Arab world are being forced upon the path to extermination.
Today, in light of the so-called “Arab spring,” the West needs to acknowledge the crisis of survival facing Christians in the Middle East. Leaders of the Western Church, whether fearful of “offending” Muslims or eager to appear “tolerant,” are reluctant to speak openly about persecution. We can no longer pretend that the answer to the problems of the Middle East is democracy. We have already seen the fruits of democracy in Muslim nations like Iraq, where, since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Christians have been brutally persecuted to the point that perhaps one-third of them have fled their homeland; and in Afghanistan, a decade after the West overthrew the Taliban, committing billions of dollars and thousands of lives, the last public church has been destroyed, even as Christians suffer under blasphemy and apostasy laws enforced by the government installed and maintained by the West.
And now, in the past few weeks, preliminary steps have been taken towards establishment of parliamentary institutions in Tunisia, in Morocco and in Egypt. It is already clear that only Islamist parties have the broad popular support as well as the financial resources necessary to dominate the next phase – the political brokering that will determine the constitution of governments of the future. These Islamist parties make no secret of their anti-Christian agenda.
This unpleasant theme – the increasing persecution of Christians in Arab countries – has been almost entirely ignored by the secular media and is pursued only by certain Christian websites maintained not by the church denominations or their ecumenical agencies but by freelance journalists and independent researchers sustained by voluntary contributions.
It is not difficult to find the fundamental reason why our media have ignored this theme. The secular opinion elites are indifferent, at best, to the fate of Christianity; their contempt for Christianity at home is reflected in the denigration and the vilification of the church which we find in our secular culture.
But another major reason for the general neglect of this theme of persecution of Christians in the Middle East is that these victims fear the consequences of antagonizing the Muslim masses among whom they must live. Typically, it is not until the local situation has became nearly hopeless, as the Christian population is decimated and scattered from traditional centers in cities and until large numbers of the elites have fled to the west to save what can still be saved of their religious legacy, that church leaders will call upon the world for understanding of their peril.
But a deeper and still more painful factor is that in their collective heart-of-hearts, the Christians of the Arab world share with Muslims their visceral contempt for Jews and for Judaism. They have no desire to break ranks with Muslims against the common enemy, the Jews. For these Christians, contempt for Jews is founded in theology – in the dogma of “replacement.” For two millennia, these churches have taught that God’s rejection of the Jews follows from their collective act of “deicide.” The evident consequences of this evil act include the destruction of their Second Temple, the end of their communities in the Holy Land and the Diaspora.
Today, defamation of Jews and Judaism has reached new heights throughout the Muslim world. The Protocols of Elders of Zion sell copiously everywhere. A television series about the continuing practice of the murder of Christian children by Jews for ritual purposes – the “Blood Libel” – runs constantly throughout the Arab world. Arabs are barraged daily in newspapers and in sermons by claims that the Jews are waiting for Europeans to look the other way long enough so that they, the Jews, can return to their hereditary work of murdering Christians. It should be noted that this paradigm of lethal hatred of Christians by Jews is promoted without any attention being given to the fact that Israel is today the only state in the region where Christian numbers are increasing, and where the Christian portion of the whole population has held steadily for half a century.
We need some history here: In 1967, with the promulgation of the encyclical Nostra Aetate, the Roman Catholic Church repudiated the notion of the collective guilt of the Jewish people for Jesus’ death. With this document, the Roman Catholic Church repudiated and recanted all previous and all extant teaching that justified the designation of Jews as the “Christ-killers,” and undertook to proceed towards “reconciliation with our brothers, the Jews.” It must be said that the Roman Catholic church has proven its sincere dedication to this theme ever since.
Middle East churches, however, were enraged by news of this “new doctrine” exculpating the Jews. They accused the Vatican of betraying historic theology for the sake of accommodation with liberal-secularist thinking. To this day, leaders of the Middle East Council of Churches blame this deviation of the Roman Catholic Church from the traditional teaching of contempt for the killers of Christ for encouraging the brazen behavior of the Zionists. This is true not only of those denominations which originated in the Middle East and which at some early point separated from the European churches on matters of dogma and liturgy, but it is also true to some degree of Roman Catholic bishops and their congregations in the region; these have shown considerable resistance to promulgation of the teaching of Nostra Aetate.
While the Vatican has never retreated from this new teaching publicly, in reality Middle East branches of all churches — Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and others — were shaken by the vehemence of the response of Eastern Churches and have pursued a policy of avoidance of friction with them by refraining from bringing public notice to the doctrines promulgated by this encyclical. Similarly, in the interest of “fraternity” with Middle Eastern churches, the World Council of Churches has played down the significance of these official statements of the Roman Catholic church.
Meanwhile, as “world opinion” becomes increasingly hostile to Israel and as leaders of opinion in our part of the world learn new ways of incorporating the insights of the Muslim victims of the Crusaders and the Jews into their purportedly “secular” analyses, the leaders of the Eastern Churches have become bolder in their anti-Judaic expression and are allowing the age-old, primitive hatred of the Jews to surge to the surface. Christians of the Middle East now routinely echo the indictment against the Jews as habitual haters of God, as haters of Humanity, and as sons of pigs and monkeys that Muslims draw from the Qu’ran and the Hadith of the Prophet.
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Almost alone as a serious and informed analysis of this phenomenon is a recent article, written for the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition by a young intern in the Middle East Forum, a student at Oxford University, Aymenn Jawad. (“Middle East Christians and anti-Semitism.” Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, September 2011 (www.jpost.com/ce).) Jawad takes note of the increasing jeopardy faced by Christians in Arab lands, and he asks why the world seems not to notice that extirpation of the Christians from that region is being prepared just as the extirpation of the Jews was prepared and then accomplished after 1949. The spirit of this campaign has found expression over recent years in a motto, “First, the Saturday People, then the Sunday People” (which, being translated means, Kill the Jews first, then the Christians) which appears on walls everywhere in the Middle East, and is even found in the Arab quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem. (See “First the Saturday People (Kill the Jews first, Then the Christians)”, Israel National News, September 15, 2003 (www.israelnationalnews.com).)
Given this pending threat of liquidation closing in on both Jews and Christians living in the Middle East, solidarity of Christians with Jews everywhere ought to be advancing. Instead, as Jawad reports, the principal spokesmen for all the local churches are involved in some kind of contest to prove which is the most hostile to Zionism. George Saliba, the Syrian Orthodox Bishop of Lebanon, says, in an interview on al-Dunya TV that “the source … behind all these movements [coming out of the Arab Spring] in then Arab world is nothing other than Zionism… deeply rooted in Judaism.” For insight on this mater, he refers his audience to The Protocols of the Elders of Zionism. Melkite Greek Patriarch Gregory III Latham recalls the mob attack upon the Syrian Catholic Church of Baghdad and other terrorist attacks against the Christians of Iraq and attributes them to “a Zionist conspiracy against Islam.” In fact, he says, “all of this behavior has nothing to do with Islam… but it is actually a conspiracy planned by Zionism … and it aims at undermining and giving a bad image of Islam.”
The voices of many churchmen and many politicians in our part of the world have been raised in condemnation of violence against the dwindling Coptic Christian minority of Egypt, which has not abated but has in fact grown during the Arab Spring. It is therefore disappointing to find official spokesmen for that church trying to persuade their Egyptian neighbors that it is all the work of the Masons and the Jews. The Coptic Pope, Shenouda III, has denounced Western churches for following the guidance of Nostra Aetate and seeking “reconciliation” with the irredeemable Jews. He reminds countrymen that the Jews were “Christ-killers … because the New Testament says they are.” This refusal of the Western Churches to keep alive the indictment against the Jews is, in the opinion of the Eastern Churches, the cause of all present woes in the Eastern churches; Nostra Aetate and the policy of reconciliation with the Jews has given the Jews license to take up with impunity their eternal task of liquidating Christians everywhere.
Leaders of the Western churches must tell their Arab brethren up front that a fundamental condition for lending their assistance to the beleaguered Christians of the Middle East – the Assyrians, the Copts, the Nestorians, the Chaldeans, and the others – is that they must desist from their anti-semitic, anti-Zionist rhetoric. They must get their heads out of the Protocols and address with candor the menace of militant Islam. Surely it is clear that if the Saturday people and the Sunday people do not hang together, they will hang separately – and soon.
Paul Merkley is Professor Emeritus in History from Carleton University and the author of several books and many articles about the history of Christian interest in Israel and in Zionism. His latest book is Those That Bless You, I Will Bless: Christian Zionism in Historical Perspective (Mantua Press, Brantford, Ontario 2011).