بيانات صحفية / مواقف

Whoever wins in Syria, its Christians will lose   29/08/2013

31 August 2013

Iraq’s troubles preceded those of the rest, but they are important because they eerily prefigure them. ‘Democracy’, imposed at gunpoint, has meant in Iraq, among other horrors, the mass persecution of the country’s Christian minority. Murders, kidnappings, intimidation and expulsions, impelled by a mixture of greed and fanaticism, have reduced that ancient, venerable community to total ruin.  Of some 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq before the war, perhaps 400,000 — mostly the poor and the old — remain.

Many Iraqi refugees left to join the two million indigenous Christians of Syria. They now share their hosts’ lot — persecution by the western-supported, Saudi-financed, Islamist-dominated Syrian rebels. Large areas of opposition-held Syria are now under sharia law. Saudi judges have appeared to administer it. Non-Muslims are only tolerated if they pay the jizya, the tax imposed on infidels. Priests are special targets. This is where a Syrian Catholic priest, Father François Murad, was murdered last month. He was not the first to die. A Syrian Orthodox priest, Father Fadi Haddad, was grabbed last December as he left his church to negotiate the release of a kidnapped parishioner. His body was found by the roadside, the eyes gouged out. Two higher-profile recent cases — if not high enough for the government or most of our press to notice — are those of the Greek Orthodox archbishop Paul Yazigi and the Syriac Orthodox archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim. They were seized near Aleppo in April, when trying to negotiate the release of kidnapped priests. Both archbishops are now presumed dead.

The case of Egypt is more problematic for the West, which, with Britain as chief dupe, has managed to misread and misplay every move since the fall of Mubarak in early 2011. The West thought that removing a dictator would ensure democracy. Instead, it permitted the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, not a party but an unreconstructed Islamist movement, which rapidly, if incompetently, sought to reshape Egypt, until non-Islamists rebelled, and the army intervened. Whether the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Tawadros II, turns out to have been inspired or just foolhardy in backing the army, only events will decide.

By his action he rejected the traditional Muslim assumption that Egypt’s Copts — 10 per cent of the population — enjoyed second-class status. That was a direct challenge. The Islamists have reacted wherever they are in control. Since Morsi’s removal, 58 Christian churches, as well as several convents, monasteries and schools and dozens of homes and businesses have been looted, burned and in many cases destroyed. Tawadros himself has gone into hiding. In Cairo, Franciscan nuns watched as the cross over their school was torn down and replaced by an al-Qa’eda flag; the school remains were burnt; and then three of the sisters were marched through the streets, while a mob hurled abuse at them. The reaction of the US State Department’s official spokesman to these outrages was: ‘Clearly, any reports of violence we’re concerned about, and when it involves a religious institutions [sic], are concerned about that as well.’ The words ‘church’, ‘Christian’ or ‘persecution’ could not cross that eloquent spokesman’s lips. Nor, it is safe to say, will they figure in one of William Hague’s innumerable tweets.

This refusal to acknowledge the systematic maltreatment of Christians by Islamic governments is, of course, shameful, but also revealing. The facts are well known, but they are ignored. They embarrass, because they expose the impotence of the West, whereas its leaders like to pose as statesmen arbitrating the future of nations. But they also embarrass modern liberals generally, because they show how little has changed in the great religious and cultural struggles that dominate history.

In May, Pope Francis canonised some 800 martyrs. These Otranto martyrs were all beheaded by the Ottoman Turks in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam. What now faces Christians in the Arab world, as the West flounders, blunders and postures, may yet provide further reminders of Otranto.

 

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