Kansas City Star: Christianity Faces A Middle Eastern Exodus, ‘Fear Is A Reality’
By Darryl Levings, The Kansas City Star – “The final outcome of the Arab Spring will not be known for years, perhaps decades, but in the meantime Christian communities across the Middle East continue to wither.
The latest to face a possible exodus are Syrian Christians, many of whom are on the wrong side of the deepening civil war there.
The birthplace of Christianity has held populations of denominations that predate Islam: Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean and Assyrian Christian.
But theses churches have never stopped shrinking, in early times because of conversions to Islam to escape discrimination or worse, and more recently from emigration, low birth rates compared to their Muslim neighbors and violence by extremists among them.
A century ago, Christians made up perhaps 1 in 5 of Middle East peoples. Today it’s not even 1 in 20.
Though criticized for their human-rights records, some authoritarian and secular regimes, such Syria’s Assads, ironhandedly crushed most religious strife.
But the toppling of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt exposed a tragic result: resurgent Muslim radicals making life harder on the Christians of those lands.
Iraq is the most extreme example; two-thirds of its original 1.5 million Christians have fled homes and churches since U.S. forces invaded nine years ago. In Tunisia, a mob in June beheaded a convert to Christianity. A recent news story reported: ‘Dozens of Gaza Christians staged a rare public protest … claiming two congregants were forcibly converted to Islam and were being held against their will.’
The Syrian Christians may regret allying with President Bashar Assad against the majority Sunni Muslims. Assad belongs to the ruling Alawite minority, a sect out of mainstream Islam seen by fundamentalist Sunnis as heretical. Alawites make up about 12 percent of the Syrian population, same as Christians.
Some Christians have refused to take sides or have already fled to Lebanon. In Wadi al-Nasara, or the Valley of the Christians, west of Homs, some are fighting beside Alawite loyalists.
‘Many Christians in Syria believe that there’s no alternative to the Bashar Assad regime,’ Jesuit Father Paulo Dall’Oglio told the Wall Street Journal after being expelled by the government in June. Retribution is expected from the rebel groups supported by radical Wahhabist Muslims in Saudi Arabia.
‘We have been leading a life that has been the envy of many,’ said Isadore Battikha, who until 2010 served as the Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Homs, Hama and Yabroud. ‘But today fear is a reality.’” Read more.