Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Arab Discrimination against Christians Must Stop

By Michael Curtis

Now is the winter of Christian discontent in Arab Middle Eastern countries. In all those countries, Christians have been suffering a sad fate: killings; torture; rape; abduction; forced conversion to Islam; seizure of homes and property; and bombings of churches, Christian institutions, and schools, and Christian businesses. All too many well-meaning individuals and group have swallowed the fallacious Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood in the contemporary Middle East and fail to recognize that the Christians living there are the real victims.

It was fitting that Pope Francis on December 26, 2013 urged people to speak out about the discrimination and violence that Christians were suffering; “injustice must be denounced and eliminated.” For some time the puzzling question has been why human rights groups, non-governmental organizations, and mainstream Western churches have been so completely or relatively silent on the issue of the persecution of Christians, individuals, and groups rooted in their societies and loyal to them.

On December 10, 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.” In the Arab countries today, this worthy principle does not apply to Christians or to Jews. The world is aware that since 1948 Jews have almost completely departed from those countries and only a small number remain. It is less aware that Christian communities, many living in fear, have also been leaving or fleeing or forced to leave their countries. With 12.8 million (3.8% of the total population) estimated in the whole Middle East region, those communities now constitute less than 1% of the world’s Christian population.

Even the figures reported in the mainstream Western media of Christians in Arab countries are wildly overstated. The Pew Research Center report of December 2011, corrected February 2013, on Global Christianity provides what appears to be an objective statistical summary of present reality. Taking just three of the countries in the report, the estimates are as follows. Egypt has a Christian population of 4.2 million (5.3% of the population) ; Syria has 1.0 million (5.2%); and Iraq 270,000 (0.9%). Of these 43.5% are Catholics, 43% are Orthodox, and 13.5% are Protestant.

These figures have to be put into the context of the history of the Middle East. The Christians suffering today are the descendants of the oldest Christian communities in the world. In the early years of Islamic rule, Christian scholars and doctors played a considerable role in the life of Middle East countries. Monks translated medical, scientific, and philosophical texts into Arabic. But for four centuries, until the early 16th century, Christians were persecuted and massacred. Under the Ottoman Empire from that point on Christians, as well as Jews, were treated as second-class citizens.

Persecution of Christians in the Islamic Middle East has intensified in recent years, and the fear now is that Christianity may be becoming extinct in the area where it has existed for two millennia. They are criticized, absurdly, as Crusaders, or as colonialists associated with the West, or as infidels. The exception, and the only country in the area where Christians possess full religious rights and can exercise them, and have increased both in absolute number and proportion of the population, is Israel. There they have grown from 34,000 to 158,000. In contrast, the number of church buildings in Iraq, once 300, is now 57. The 1987 census in Iraq, the last one taken officially, counted 1.4 million Christians; it is now about one-fifth that number.

It is a poignant commentary that this Christmas period should have witnessed attacks and outbreaks of hostility against Christians. These were particularly violent in Iraq where the Assyrians, whose descendants are now part of the Assyrian Church of the East, are said to have adopted Christianity in the first century, and where the Chaldean Catholic Church dates back to the 16th century. Most of the Christians today are Chaldeans, some of whom still speak the old language of Aramaic; they are Eastern rite Catholics who recognize the Pope’s authority but remain autonomous from Rome.

Iraq already has been the scene of killing of the Archbishop of Mosul in 2008, the kidnappings of clerics in 2005 and 2006, and attack on a Catholic Church in Baghdad in 2010 and an outdoor market that killed 58 people. An Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda termed the 2010 attack as involving a “legitimate target.” In Christmas 2013 there were further senseless terrorists actions, especially against Christians. These included three bombings in Christian areas, including a car bombing in the Dora section of Baghdad as worshippers were leaving the Christian service; 38 were reported killed.

Egypt is embroiled in its internal hostilities between the military group now in control and the forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and armed jihadists and supporters of the deposed President Mohamed Morsi, that have killed hundreds of people and led to the imprisonment of thousands. Though Egyptian Coptic Christians are not central to this conflict, they have been persecuted. It is true that Copts were largely sympathetic to the overthrow of Morsi. It was perhaps also impolitic for the Coptic Pope Tawadros II to appear on television with General Abdel Sisi, who removed Morsi from office. Yet these did not justify the savage attacks by Islamists against the Orthodox Christian Copts.

Since the 2011 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, more than a hundred Christians have been kidnapped. So far in 2013, the Islamist violence in Egypt resulted in more than 200 churches attacked and 43 totally destroyed. In addition, discrimination and violence has been frequently exercised against homes and businesses of Christians who feel imperiled. One Coptic Church in Minya province that had stood for a hundred years was burned. The Church of the Archangel Michael, outside of Cairo, was burned in August 2013.

Resolutions and calls for action in Middle East affairs are now frequent. Perhaps the call that is most urgent today is for the protection of Christians who should be accorded equality in law and culture in Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East. The mainstream churches and the groups purportedly interested in human rights ought to heed the plea of Pope Francis.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.


What we will all lose if Christians flee the Middle East


(Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas at St. Joseph Chaldean church in Baghdad December 25, 2011. REUTERS/Saad Shalash)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako is the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad and Patriarch of Babylon. This is adapted from his speech to a Rome conference on “Christianity and Freedom,” sponsored by Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project.

By Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako

 For almost two millennia Christian communities have lived in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. These groups have contributed economically, politically, and intellectually, and have helped shape their respective cultures. Unfortunately, in the 21st century Middle Eastern Christians are being severely persecuted. When they have the means, many are fleeing the region.

This exodus and its causes, largely ignored in the West, constitute a growing crisis with both humanitarian and security implications. In most of these countries, Islamist extremists see Christians as an obstacle to their plans. Some nations, dominated by extremist ideas, do not want so-called “Arab Spring” democracy. Freedom and pluralism are dangerous to them and their goals.

Unfortunately, some in the West are encouraging the emigration of Christians. Each month families in good economic situations leave for good. Many young Christians, especially those who are well educated, are fleeing. For example, the United Nations Committee for Refugees recently estimated that 850,000 Iraqi Christians have left since 2003.  This is an immense loss for those who stay, as well as for Iraqi culture and politics.

The current situation is all the more tragic because Christianity has its roots in the Middle East. In Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt, Christians were a majority in the region well before of the arrival of Islam. At the time of the Arab conquest, Jews and Christians were treated as minorities under the protection of Islam.

Indeed, the early Umayyad period was marked by a tolerant attitude. Muslims needed the Christians’ administrative and economic knowledge to rule the newly conquered territories. For example, John of Damascus was one of the earliest and most influential Christian theologians on Islam. He and his father are believed to have served as administrators in the Umayyad caliphate. John, a saint of the Catholic Church, was educated in arithmetic, geometry, theology, music, and astronomy.

Later, Syriac Christians commissioned by the caliphs undertook huge systematic translations – especially in the fields of science, philosophy, and medicine – from Greek via Syriac into Arabic. The transmission of the great classics to Islamic civilization expanded the intellectual possibilities of the Muslim world.

Today, Christian communities lend to the region plurality and diversity. The loss of Christianity would fundamentally alter the contours of culture and society in nations such as Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. It would deal a severe blow to any hope of pluralism and democracy.

(Louis Sako at his installation as Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad at St. Joseph Chaldean Church in Baghdad, March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Saad Shalash)

Unfortunately, many Muslims do not know the history of Christians in the religious and intellectual formation of Islamic civilization, or the value of Christianity to stable democracy. It is vital that these factors become better known, and their significance to Islam better understood.

It is also critical that Muslims not only reject violence against Christians, but actually to promote civil harmony and religious freedom in their societies. Most Muslims are good and not violent. They do not agree with the extremists but they are also afraid to act publicly. They must do so.

I invite our Muslim friends in the Middle East to bring a common action to “A Common Word.”

For their part, Christians in the Middle East should hold fast to their ancient homelands, maintain their historic presence, and not flee to the West. They must continue their witness, and permit their difficulties and suffering to be a sign of hope and peace for their fellow citizens.

We Christians must also find answers to the questions of Muslims as our fathers did during the Ommiad and Abbasid periods. We must find a new and more comprehensible theological language in Arabic to help Muslims understand our faith.

I suggest that the Church produce a new document, addressed to Muslims, that will clarify both our fears and our hopes. Among other things, this document should explain, in language compatible with Islam, the magnificent doctrine of religious freedom as it is articulated in the Declaration on Religious Freedom from the Second Vatican Council. Such an undertaking can help Muslims better understand our faith, and why religious freedom is vital to every person and every society.

Two weeks ago, Pope Francis met with 10 heads of Middle Eastern churches. He told us the Roman Catholic Church “would not accept” a Middle East without Christians. No one should accept such a catastrophic outcome. The entire international community should insist that Christians remain in the Middle East, not simply as minorities, but as citizens enjoying full equality under the law, and therefore in a position to continue to contribute to peace, justice, and stability.


Canada: Muslim teen labeled high terror risk after found w/ bomb-making material. al-Qaeda literature

youth.jpgNever too young to start

“He is already serving a three-year probation order for a conviction of arson and break and enter last year.” Now his “probation conditions have been tightened.” Clearly this young man is a walking time bomb — a jihad time bomb. For what is being done to disabuse him of his beliefs? Is he in classes at the local mosque (or the local Catholic Church) to learn about the “authentic Islam” that “rejects every form of violence”?

“B.C. teen labelled as high risk to commit terrorism, tight conditions imposed,” from The Canadian Press, December 2:

KAMLOOPS – A provincial court judge has tightened restrictions on a Kamloops teenager labelled by the RCMP as a high risk to commit targeted acts of violence and terrorism.The court heard that Mounties searched the 17-year-old boy’s home earlier this year and found documents about bomb making, interrogation and torturing techniques and Canadian links to al-Qaida.

The youth, who can’t be named under a publication ban, was in court Monday after he pleaded guilty to assaulting a social worker last month and breaching probation.

He is already serving a three-year probation order for a conviction of arson and break and enter last year.

Judge Chris Cleaveley sentenced the teen to 30 days in custody for the recent charges and then tightened the teen’s probation conditions after hearing about the materials Mounties found in his home.

The conditions include a ban on Internet access and on any written materials related to terrorist activities. (CFJC, CHNL)

That will fix everything.