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The Forgotten: Christians Persecuted in the Middle East Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The upheaval in the Middle East has turned that region into a war zone. Protesters in Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen have been shot, clubbed, and jailed. Public condemnation of the violence by the United States and European Union is certainly warranted, and no-fly zones and other sanctions may be necessary to prevent the mass slaughter of innocent people.

Protesters and freedom fighters, however, are not the only victims of violence in the Middle East. There has been a significant rise in Christian bloodshed. Unfortunately, the leaders of Western powers, with little exception, have ignored those crimes.

In his annual address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, Pope Benedict XVI pointed to the “acts of discrimination against Christians, which are considered less grave and less worthy of attention on the part of governments and public opinion.” The Holy Father renewed his “heartfelt appeal” to Muslim religious leaders “that their Christians fellow-citizens be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members.” Egypt’s Al-Azhar University suspended talks with the Vatican because they found the pope’s references to Muslim violence “insulting.”

Among other duties, I serve as Chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, U.S.A., a charity directly under the Holy Father that supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed, or in need. I receive regular updates and status reports on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Here’s a roundup of what happened this past year:

Afghanistan: The nation’s constitution designates Islam as the state religion and “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” As a result, in May 2010 a group of Muslims were sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. Fortunately, they escaped and found asylum in India. In August, ten members of an eye-care team from the Christian International assistance mission were murdered in Afghanistan’s northern mountains. The Taliban claimed responsibility saying the volunteers were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. Open Doors, an international Christian rights organization, rates Afghanistan as the world’s fourth worst country for Christian prosecution.

Egypt: In December 2010, Muslim extremists attacked an Orthodox Coptic Church in Upper Egypt during Christmas midnight Mass and murdered nine. On New Years Day, twenty mass goers died and seventy others were wounded when a car bomb exploded outside the Church of Saints in Alexandria. Egypt is the home to 20-million Christians – far more than any other country in the region. Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants are persecuted for allegedly carrying out clandestine evangelization. Since it takes up to thirty years to receive permits to build a Christian church, the militant Imams have cracked down on Christians who gather in makeshift places of worship, claiming they are illegal.


A bloodstained image of Jesus (Church of Saints in Alexandria, Egypt)
 
Iran: While the population of Iran has grown since 1979 from 38 to 72 million, the Christian population has declined from 100,000 to 15,000. Christians have fled because they were constantly harassed by the government and falsely accused of being pro-Western. Because renouncing Islam is a crime of apostasy, there have been numerous arrests in Christian communities. In 2009, for instance, two women converts were arrested and charged with “acting against the security of the state” for distributing Bibles in their church. Thanks to international pressure they were released after eight months in jail, and allowed to leave the country. In January, about seventy Christians were arrested for attending services in “house churches.” In a November 2010 letter to President Ahmadinejad, Pope Benedict asked why Christian minorities live as dhimmis, second-class citizens.

Iraq: Since 2000, over 77 percent of Iraq’s 700,000 Christians have fled. In February 2008, the Catholic Archbishop of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, Mosul (known in scripture as Nineveh), Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and died in captivity two weeks later. His successor, Archbishop Amil Nona, believes that his diocese has suffered “some of the worst persecution to befall the Church in a generation.” On October 31, 2010, 58 people died and 70 were injured when an organization linked to al Qaeda attacked Baghdad’s Our Lady of Deliverance Syrian Catholic Cathedral during Sunday Mass. Among the dead were two young priests. Archbishop Louis Sako commented: “For us Christians of Iraq, martyrdom is the charism of our Church . . . .We are aware that bearing witness to Christ can mean martyrdom.”

Pakistan: Although the constitution of Pakistan states it is a secular country, violating blasphemy laws can be punishable by death. The Catholic Church’s Commission of Justice and Peace reported that since 1986 approximately 993 people have been charged with slandering Mohammed or desecrating the Qur’an. On March 2, 2011, the only Pakistani Christian cabinet member, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated because he campaigned to reform the blasphemy laws. At his requiem in the Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of Fatima, only one cabinet member had the courage to attend, Prime Minister Raza Gilani. Imagine if a U.S. cabinet member were murdered and only the president appeared at the funeral.

Saudi Arabia: Religious freedom is not protected under law and is severely restricted in practice. Public ceremonies or services by non-Islamic religions are banned. Saudi Arabia’s 1-million Christians are constantly harassed and police raid private religious gatherings and confiscate religious articles.

Yemen: There are only 8,000 Christians in this nation of 24 million. Yet in February, Yemen’s al Qaeda leader called on Muslims to wage jihad against them.

Despite all these crimes, there is hardly a peep from the Western powers. These victims would be completely forgotten if not for the Holy Father. In his January 1, 2011 World Peace Day message, he reminded the world that Middle East Christians “experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Christ Jesus and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity.”

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic Voter.

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written by Dave, March 23, 2011
Mr. Marlin, these Christians are not forgotten. Many, many Christians in this country pray for their brothers and sisters in the faith who are being persecuted in the Middle East. But more is needed.

Would that the Catholic Right had heeded the pleas of the Iraqi, and other, bishops before the Iraqi War alerting us to the fact that persecution would increase were the war prosecuted. Instead, almost to a man we supported a war that neither John Paul II nor then-Cardinal Ratzinger supported, each of whom condemned the war in the strongest possible terms available to them before and after its prosecution. We now live to witness a growing succession of Islamist movements throughout the Middle East and South Central Asia seeking to impose sharia and to deny the rights of Christians and practitioners of other minority religions.

But the problem may well have been when we entered into the Yugoslav quagmire in support of Bosnia-Herzegovina, largely Muslim, and against Serbia, largely Christian. The foreign policy of the United States has seemed for some two decades now to disfavor peoples abroad when they happen to be Christian. Good for President Obama for condemning the recent assassination of Afghan Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti -- and I mean that non-facetiously: but how did the condemnation translate into an improvement of the lots of non-Muslims, and specifically Christians, in Afghanistan.

There is hardly a peep not because the press isn't covering it, but because we are letting the press not cover it. It may be time for Christians in this country to start protesting using every legal means. If we don't, I suggest we are culpable for failing to act on behalf of our brothers and sisters, and for failing to exercise our own civil rights, in time, please God no, to our own detriment.
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written by Brad Miner, March 23, 2011
I must say, I’m simply astonished by Bill’s comment that “Christianity is associated with the West.” He means, if I understand him, that it is so associated in the minds of the Muslims who are attacking Christians. In other words, because America and Europe are nominally Christian – and are involved in military actions against regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya – that we cannot expect Egyptian Muslims (to take just one example) NOT to attack their fellow Egyptians who happen to be Christian; that their violence is simply payback for Western military action in the region. Nonsense. The new Muslim extremism, gaining strength for the last half century, needs no external provocation to punish what it considers heresy. This despite the fact that Christianity preceded Islam in the Middle East, and despite the fact that Christians and Muslims (and Jews too) coexisted in the region – with intermittent violence, to be sure – for more than a millennium.
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written by Howard, March 23, 2011
Likely we've all heard one or the other of the country-by-country statistics brought forth in Mr.Marlin's essay. To see them summarized, all in one place, should be a real eye-opener for most readers, reason enough to bring the subject up. As for concrete steps, how about this: every person who reads this essay today forwards it to his/her congressional representatives, with a polite note to the effect that THEY open their eyes and take some action to START to deal with these unacceptalbe situations effectively?
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written by Bill, March 23, 2011
I think you are on to something, Dave, when you write of Sharia law. Aren't legal cases in the US and the UK being settled using Sharia law? When Brad writes of "The new Muslim extremism, gaining strength for the last half century..." would place that after WWII when millions of Jews left Europe and entered Palestine, pushing millions of Palestinians into Jordan, Syria and Egypt, killing many and stealing their property even to the present day. They called their new land Israel and who was among the first nations to "recognize" it? The "Protestant Country" as it was referred to when I was young. Who protects it from the UN now? The Protestant Country which has now become secular. But illiterate Muslim peasants still think of us as "Christians" as we used to refer to our enemies in monosyllabic terms.
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written by Howard Kainz, March 23, 2011
Unfortunately, these actions taken against Christians are fully in accord with directives given in the later (Medinan) segments of the Koran.
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written by Elizabeth, March 23, 2011
I've just finished reading "In Ishmael's House" by Sir Martin Gilbert, which is an account of Jews in Muslim lands over the centuries. Non Muslims are considered Dhimmis, that is second class citizens who have to convert to Islam or be subjected to often excessive taxes. They are then "protected" as dhimmis, which means in reality they are at the mercy of whoever happens to be ruling at the time, they don't have protection under the law. They have often had their houses and businesses destroyed and been subjected to beatings,killings and rape. This has been going on since the beginning of Islam. Most Muslim countries are back in the dark ages, and there is need for reform and education to bring them into the 21st century.
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written by Dave, March 23, 2011
It's true, Bill, that sharia principles are being used to settle law cases in Britain and even here. I received email today from a friend alerting that in Tampa a judge decided to use sharia legal principles to settle a Muslim dispute even when those pressing their claims wanted them adjudicated under secular law. In Britain, an English member of the House of Commons was asked in his own district what was he doing there, this was Muslim territory.
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written by Louise, March 24, 2011
"would place that after WWII when millions of Jews left Europe and entered Palestine, pushing millions of Palestinians into Jordan, Syria and Egypt, killing many and stealing their property even to the present day"

I understand that time quite differently. The Jews never pushed millions of Palestinians out of their territory. Indeed, they were given the opportunity to stay (and many did), with full citizenship and without the requirement to serve in the military.

On the contrary, they fled of their own accord, but the countries around them soon closed their borders and pushed them into the refugee camps that survive to this day--the only refugee camps left in the world, and those for 60 years. They were told to be patient, not to worry, that the combined Muslim forces would drive the Jews into the sea and then the land would be all theirs. Some Palestinians did make it into other countries, such as Syria, who, after the Palestinians caused nothing but trouble, said they had to leave. The Christian government of Lebanon, in Christian compassion, took them in, and we know what happened to Lebanon. Jordan still doesn't know what to do with their Palestinians.

You may think that my understanding is skewed, although I learned it, first, in a (liberal) college Political Geography course, and my observations and experience since then have borne it all out. I had learned, as others had, that it was all the Jews' fault.

I have an Israeli friend. His maternal grandparents arrived in Palestine from Morocco some time in the distant past, having been forced out of Spain in the 15th century. His paternal grandparents were Iraqi Jews who emigrated to Palestine (not under duress, but by choice) in the early 20th century, and settled in the small town of Tiberias. As children, he and his friends played on the slopes of Mt. Tabor.

My friend fought on the Golan Heights, and, later, he had a job driving a truck full of freshly cut flowers from the southern desert of Israel to Tel Aviv to be sent by air overnight to arrive in the markets of European cities the next morning. The Israelies had made the desert bloom. We used to buy oranges grown in Israel. The boundaries of this blooming desert can be seen from the air by the "green line" that delineates Israeli and Palestinian Arab territories.

My friend grew up with Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims. He tells me that the Palestinian Christians live in the 21st century with the rest of us. The others are still living in the 8th century in their social attitudes and culture.

My friend tells me that he doesn't understand American Jewry, especially for their lack of support for Israel.

When I began my mid-life career in publishing in 1987, I produced medical reference books. Many of those books had contributing authors from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I produced the first issue of a new journal called "Virus Genes", at the time, a new direction in the study of viruses. Its editor in chief was and, to this day, is Yechiel Becker, of Hebrew University.

Do you know anyone with a stent in his heart? Do a Google search and discover that the leading research and development of medical stents were done in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

What is the only country that we know of whose prime minister said of its deadly enemies, "We don't hate you because you kill our children. We hate you because you make us kill yours." (Golda Meier.) (sp?)

My number may be off, but I believe that the Israelis (in a country the size of Rhode Island) have been granted more than 40 Nobel prizes in science and medicine in the same 60 years that the Palestinians have been languishing in those refugee camps. I'm not sure there is a combined total anywhere near that from all the Muslim lands that stretch from west of Gibraltar to India and Indonesia--and with all those oil profits, to boot. Think what could have been done with that money.

My friend doesn't understand American Jewry. I must say that I don't either. I told my friend once that he should never expect Israel it be allowed "to play with the big boys" among the nations. She will always be an outsider. She will always be despised--just as Belloc says that the Catholic Church will always be despised.

Israel is certainly not perfect, and I don't pretend that she is. However, the world has benefited greatly from what Israel has produced, and I sometimes think that the world cannot exist without her.
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written by clueless liberal, April 08, 2011
hmm these are all MUSLIM nations. you don't think islam has anything to do with it? Surely not. We all know islam is a religion of peace. oh yes of course it is. Excuse me now its time for my hourly dose of soma and then I will doze of dreaming of obama....
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written by Charles Martel, October 16, 2011
Islam is renewing it's efforts, through petrodollars,propaganda and threats of violence, to bribe and coerce anyone in it's way of global domination. The endgame of islam is for all the peoples of the world to subjugate themselves,to submit to allah and muhammed.The west defeated them in Austria,so the long islamic attacks on Europe stopped.Now oil has brought them power,power to corrupt politicians and buisnessmen in western nations to betray their own countries to islam.Islam is united in the goal to dominate the west.The west is divided,it has become secular,atheistic,selfish,corrupt and cowardly.The Christian military orders are long gone,only they could counter this threat.
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written by Leena, October 16, 2011
Peace and Blessing Unto All!

I am Muslim and this has been a topic that distresses me. Under true Islam rule, all people are to be treated equally, with equal rights. Modern countries with Muslim leaders do not reflect the true spirit of Islam, of the peace it promotes. I am Muslim, and these countries' actions against innocent faithful people do not represent me. Power to the oppressed! God Bless.
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written by Charles Martel, October 18, 2011
The only people who don't get it are the political leadership class of the western nations.Of course maybe they do,but they don't care.The Saudis pay real good money to Judases.Islam will slink back under a rock when the US government,the EU government and the UN stop empowering these inferior warriors.( who love to kill the helpless )Look up Rome airport massacre,most of you never heard of it.When western armies are allowed to fight to win,the islamic bulls**t will fade away.
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written by Charles Martel, October 23, 2011
The Japanese during WW2 were suicidal in combat.They blew themselves up with grenades as they pretended to surrender,so they might kill a few more US Marines.The US Navy ships were hit by Kamikazes,Jap planes that purposely suicide dived into American ships.They were determined and fanatical.They would die,like the samurai,for the man-god emperor Hirohito.The modern Islamic terrorists,( average muslim )either gives moral support to terrorists or is actually a terrorist.We managed to pacify the fearless Japs,we may have to pacify the crazies from the middleeast.Since Islam teaches that Islam must dominate the world,non muslims,ALL non-muslims are a target for the religion of pieces.( as in cutting people to pieces )It's really too bad that we can't all live together in peace.Most people would want peace.But not peace under the cresent moon of allah.

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