Christian Arabs Faced with Continued Pressure

Iraqi columnist: 'It is difficult to recall a period in which Christian Arabs were in greater danger than today'
( [email protected] ) Sep 30, 2004 07:08 PM EDT

After the coordinated bombing attacks on five Iraqi churches at the beginning of last month, tens of thousands of Christians fled the war-torn nation to neighboring nations and overseas, with estimates approaching 40,000 by mid-August. Their plight, however, is not just limited to the Iraqi Christian community, but is also present in Arab nations throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa. In an article featured in an Iraqi daily newspaper published simultaneously in London and Baghdad, a columnist highlighted the plight of the Christian Arab community in the Muslim world.

The Iraqi daily Al-Zaman, whose independent and liberal origin goes back to the 1940s, featured an article by columnist Majid Aziza who reported that natives of Arab countries who are of the Christian faith, have been fleeing their countries of origin, as is often heard throughout the media.

Statistics have shown that a large number of Arab Christians have emigrated to safer countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe.

“The reason is the harassment to which they are subjected to by government agencies on the one hand and extremist groups on the other hand in countries they have inhabited for thousands of years,” Aziza wrote.

For centuries, Christians have lived in the territory currently referred to as the Arab countries alongside other religious groups, “particularly with Muslims who shared with them the afflictions of life,” Aziza said.

“But the Christians have lost their partners for many reasons,” Aziza added. He wrote that those reasons include “religious extremism among some Muslims, the demographic increases out of religious reasons, and the acts of discrimination, coercion, and individual and collective expulsion of Christians, and the pressures placed upon them even when they were serving their countries. There are many examples of that in Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt, and other countries.”

Aziz reported that approximately four million Lebanese Christians have emigrated from their country as a result of the pressures placed upon them by others and about half a million Iraqi Christians have left their country for the same reasons.

“The situation gets worse today because of the discrimination by salafi [Islamic fundamentalist] extremists,” the columnist wrote.

“In Palestine, the Christians are becoming almost extinct as a result of the control of extremist Muslims on the Palestinian issue and the marginalization of the role of the Christians, apart from the negative impact of the Intifada, which is led by Islamist organizations, on the Christians of Palestine.”

With regard to Christians in Egypt, the Copts, Aziz said that what happened and is happening to them equally on the part of the state and the Islamists “will suffice to fill pages of books and newspapers to explain the coercion, discrimination and persecution. What is happening in Algeria, Mauritania, Somalia, and others is too long to explain.”

He said this situation is also reflected in non-Arab Muslim countries.

In Islamic countries like Pakistan, for example, where Christians suffer from persecution, “Islamist [spiritual leaders] have issued a fatwa [religious opinion] permitting the killing of two Christians for every Muslim killed by the American attacks in Afghanistan, as though the Americans represent Christianity in the world,” wrote Aziz.

In other countries where Christians live under the shadow of threat, and face a growing cycle of assaults whenever the United States and its allies carry out a military operation against any country, there is uncertainty as to how the Christian community will be affected.

“The situation is quite critical and requires urgent attention,” Aziz wrote. “It is difficult for us to imagine any other time in which the Christians have felt a greater danger than the danger they feel today in these countries...”

Arabs, name originally applied to the Semitic peoples of the Arabian Peninsula; now used also for populations of countries whose primary language is Arabic, such as Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen. The invasions of Muslims from Arabia in the 6th and 7th centuries diffused the Arabic language and Islam, the Arabic religion.