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An Inevitable Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?

By       Message Franklin P. Lamb       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   6 comments

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Malloula, Syria

"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)" are reputedly among Jesus' last words on the Cross at Calvary. Today Christ's words can be said to apply to all Christians in the Middle East who in this birthplace of Christianity are increasingly facing the most intense persecutions since the Roman Empire and the Bolshevik revolution.

As is widely known, Christians are being targeted in this region and pushed out of Christianity's birth place of 2000 thousand years ago and there is no Richard the Lion Hearted on the horizon to protect them. According to some analysts in approximately twenty years Christians will be virtually extinct in the Middle East.


Iraqi Christians moving Church icons to hoped for safety near Mosul.
(Image by Courtesy of M. Jalloum)
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Today, Christians number fewer than four per cent of the region's more than four hundred million people. They have been subject to vicious murders at the hands of terrorist groups, forced out of their ancestral lands by civil wars, suffered societal intolerance fomented by Islamist ideology, and increasingly the victims of widespread institutional discrimination spreading today in the legal codes and official practices of many Middle Eastern governments.

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This Easter, Christians are going through hell in the Middle East. Last year, approximately 100,000 Christians were killed in this region as a result of their beliefs, according to the Center for the Study of World Christianity. Outside the Arab world, persecution is also growing in India and Southeast Asia, according to the Open Doors organization, which has concluded that, in total, 215 million people on the planet suffer "high levels of persecution" simply "for belonging to the flock of Jesus of Nazareth." There are mounting calls to declare the atrocities perpetrated against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide or if this noun is deemed problematical under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, using the adjective 'genocidal' is becoming commonplace.

The Christian minorities in the Middle East -- Copts in Egypt; Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq; Melkites and other Christians in parts of Syria; Maronites and Armenians in Lebanon face increasing injustices and are targets of attacks and discrimination while increasingly being relegated to the status of second-class citizens in their own countries. Since their ascendancy in 2014 in Iraq and Syria, various Islamic State militiamen stigmatize Christians and mark their houses and properties with the letter "N" in the Arabic alphabet, for "Nazarene" or allegedly from Nazareth Palestine.

The largest number of killings of Christians are in areas of Iraq and Syria under IS control. The Iraqi Christian clerical leadership is urging those who have not yet fled not to remain in Iraq warning that as ever fewer remain and their numbers even further decline it will mean the end of their ancient communities. The Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako recently told Agence France-Presse "For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians."

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ISIS may or may not soon be defeated in Iraq or replaced by a more vicious terrorist movement. Meanwhile Christians and other minorities may receive short term protection in Ninewah Province, but many voices of despair from inside the Church are admitting that there is no likely future for Christians in Iraq. Increasingly students of the subject are claiming that it is also likely true of the whole Middle East.

Just like Iraq, Syria hosts an array of Christian confessions, distinguished by the positions their forebears took in church councils of up to 1500 years ago. Some are in communion with Rome, others with Greek and Russian Orthodoxy; still others characterized by subtle doctrinal differences with all attempting to preserve mutual respect and friendship with their co-religionists across Syria. Under Syria's Hafez al-Assad and son Bashar, Christians have been 10 percent of the population and today are protected by the regime in areas it still controls. A majority of Christians remaining in Syria back Assad's government against the terrorists of the Islamic State and al-Qaida, whose victory would likely mean their expulsion or death. Still at least half of Syria's Christians have fled since March 2011. The flight is so pronounced that in 2013, Gregory III, the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, issued an open letter to his flock, urging them: "Despite all your suffering, stay here! Don't emigrate!"

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Since 2013, Professor Franklin P. Lamb has traveled extensively throughout Syria. His primary focus has been to document, photograph, research and hopefully help preserve the vast and irreplaceable archaeological sites and artifacts in (more...)
 

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