On September 11 this year, Walter Russell Mead reported on the plight of Christians on his blog at the National Interest web site. Mead bemoand the fact that one of the consequences of the US invasion of Iraq has been the rapid decline of non-Muslim residents: “Comprising at least 5% of Iraq’s population before the 2003 invasion, well over half of these Christians and others have fled their ancestral homes. As the country has stabilized in the past few years, the toll of violence against minorities and stream of refugees has continued. Even as the Shia-dominated Iraqi government has enhanced its control, it has done little to rein in the targeting of weak Christian, Mandean, and Yazidi communities.”
Of course, this is not what the US wanted. But the US has done little to address the problem. Mostly, both the Bush and Obama administrations have ignored the problem as an “inconvenience”: “Officials seemed to feel that making an issue of widespread persecution of religious minorities would be either a propaganda victory for opponents of the Iraq War or, by making the US appear to be an advocate for Iraqi Christians, confirm Muslim suspicions about an alleged anti-Islamic or “crusader” US agenda. These considerations were less pressing once George W. Bush left the White House, but under President Obama as well the US made no concerted attempt to protect Christians and other minorities; now that we are rapidly drawing down troop levels there we will have even less ability to safeguard these most vulnerable communities.”
He continues, “In a truly grotesque dereliction of duty, neither administration made allowances for minority refugees to resettle in America, something we have done in past conflicts and that has benefited asylum-seekers from South Vietnam to Somalia. Historically tight-knit, these communities are now dispersed across Jordan, Syria, Iran, and elsewhere and will probably disappear in time.”
Unintended as it was, it ought not to have been unanticipated. It’s been going on for most of the last century: “Modern Turkey is built on the murder of Armenians and the expulsion of Greeks; combined massacre, expulsion and flight decimated once large and healthy Christian minority populations across the Middle East.” For a time, nationalism was able to provide a structure within which Muslims and Christians lived together: “In Iraq up until the fall of Saddam and in Syria still under Assad, this led to better conditions for Christian minorities. They shared in the common oppression rather than suffering special persecution on their own — though in both Iraq and Syria Christians often found a place as junior allies and servants to the dictatorship. Since, under the fiction of pan-Arab nationalism, Iraq was ruled by its Sunni minority and Syria is still ruled by the Alawites, Christians were a useful ally for the ruling elites. When the dictatorship fell in Iraq, and perhaps when and if it falls in Syria, Christians were seen as allies of the hated regimes who enjoyed a relatively privileged position. With the hated dictator who protected the minorities out of the way, the firebombings and expulsions could begin.”
Expulsion of religious minorities has more often than not been suicidal. The minorities were often businessmen and traders who made the Muslim countries rich, and expelling them “left many countries in a poor position when it came to dealing with the international economy.”
In Egypt, Mubarak’s fall has had a similar effect: “As in Syria and Iraq, some Copts did well under nationalist rule in Egypt and, especially as the regime abandoned its socialist roots, well-placed Copt businessmen were able to become very wealthy. In watching Egypt’s revolution, it will be important to see how the Copts fare.” So far, they are not faring well.
Mead finds it ironic that “George W. Bush, widely attacked as an evangelical warrior for Christ, accelerated the destruction of the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East. Once again, he stands in a tradition of well-meaning American idealists in this region, whose efforts to secure the future of these communities have contributed to the virtual disappearance of Christianity from the region of its birth. That process has taken another tragic turn in the last ten years; the venerable communities of Iraq, which trace their origins to the Apostle Thomas and John the Baptist, will probably never return.”
In the long run, Mead is more sanguine, believing that a democratic and modernized Muslim world might emerge from the furnace of today’s persecution.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, October 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm
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