SHAFAQNA – Easter should be a time of celebration for Christians, but for those of the faith living in the Middle East, there hasn’t been too much to celebrate in recent years.
‘Kill the Christians‘ is the title of a new BBC documentary, to be broadcast this week. In it, veteran reporter Jane Corbin travels ‘across the Middle East, to examine why Christianity is facing the greatest threat to its existence. She finds hundreds of thousands of Christians are fleeing Islamic extremists, conflict and persecution’.
It’s a grim story, but for the reason why Christians are so threatened today, we need to look at Western foreign policy.
Self-proclaimed Christian leaders in the West, have put their fellow believers in such danger- by adhering to neocon/liberal interventionist policies. Their number one objective has been to topple secular and socialistic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, which although authoritarian, protected Christians and rejected religious extremism.
Let’s start with Iraq. The fact that Christians were protected by the government there – and that the long-standing Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was a practicing Christian, didn’t count too much when those great ’Christians’ George Bush and Tony Blair launched an illegal war of aggression against the country in 2003.
The results of the invasion were eminently predictable. Iraq became a failed state where violent jihadists moved in to exploit the chaos. Christians, who were safe under Saddam, have been murdered in large numbers by religious extremists. One of the worst single incidents was the massacre of around 60 people killed while celebrating Sunday Mass in a church in Baghdad, in October 2010.
Similar chaos now exists in Libya – again because of a Western military ‘intervention,’ which effectively handed the country over to extremists. In February, 21 Coptic Christian migrant workers from Egypt were beheaded in the country by the Islamic State (IS).
The group ‘Open Doors,’ which monitors the persecution of Christians, says: “Since the downfall of Gaddafi, the situation for Christians in Libya has deteriorated. The government claims all Libyans are Sunni Muslims; it is illegal to bring Arabic Bibles into the country or to evangelize. Christian migrant workers are allowed to have churches, but Libyan believers who convert from Islam must keep their faith secret.”
And what of Syria, home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world? In 2008 I wrote of the country:
“It’s a Middle Eastern country where Christian celebrations are official state holidays and civil servants are allowed to take Sunday morning off to go to church, even though Sunday is a working day.
A place where women can smoke and wear make-up and are active in public life.
A country implacably opposed to Islamic fundamentalism and Al-Qaeda, and whose security forces helped foil a terrorist attack on the US Embassy.
No, not Israel, Syria.”
So what did the Western powers do to the country ‘completely opposed to Islamic fundamentalism and Al-Qaeda and whose government allowed Christians to take Sunday morning off to go to church? Answer: They deliberately destabilized it, backing violent ’rebels’- many with links to Al-Qaeda, in their attempt to overthrow a secular government, which had widespread popular support- and which after over decades of one-party rule, had embarked on a program of democratization.
More than 700,000 Christians have fled Syria since the fighting began.
In February, the BBC reported: “Thousands (of Christians) have been forced from their homes by the threat from hardline Islamist rebels and jihadist militants.
In areas seized by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS), Christians have been ordered to convert to Islam, pay jizya (a religious levy), or face death… Senior Christian clerics have also been kidnapped by unknown gunmen.”
The same report quoted Gregorios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch as saying: “The future of Christians in Syria is threatened not by Muslims but by chaos.”
The same sort of chaos of course that the Western powers unleashed on Iraq and Libya, two other independent countries that didn‘t toe the line.
In his Easter address last week at the Vatican, the Pope said: “We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries.”
Noble sentiments indeed from the Holy Father, but the destroyers of Iraq, Libya and Syria aren’t listening. While Moscow hosted peace talks between representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition, the US and Britain concentrated on training ‘rebels’ to fight against a government, which is doing more to fight IS in Syria than they are, a point forcefully made by President Bashar Assad in an interview with the Russian media last month.
If the US and its allies really were concerned about defeating radical jihadists in Syria they’d be working alongside the Syrian government in its battle against extremists. However, it’s clear that toppling Assad, regardless of the human or financial cost, is still the main aim.
Of course, its not just Christians who have been put in danger by the West’s interventionist polices in the Middle East and North Africa. Muslims have suffered greatly as their countries have been turned into chaotic, failed states. The new Body Count report, which I discussed in my last Op-Edge column, calculated that at least 1.3 million people had lost their lives in the US-led ‘war on terror’- and that figure did not include the 50,000 or so who have lost their lives in Libya, during and following the West‘s 2011 ‘humanitarian intervention‘.
Writing for Middle East Eye, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed believes the death toll from Western wars since 1990, could be higher than 4 million.
All these deaths are equally tragic, whether Christians or Muslims. The hypocrisy of Western politicians who claim to be Christian, yet support the ‘interventions’ of the last 15 or so years, is really off the scale.
“I am appalled by the murder of Christians in Libya, a simply barbaric and inhumane act,” bleated UK Prime Minister David Cameron in February – before going on to say quite ludicrously – that Libya was“better off” since the Western military intervention. Cameron needs to check his own government website which advises “against all travel to Libya due to the ongoing fighting, threat of terrorist attacks, and kidnappings against foreigners by IS-affiliated extremists and deteriorating security situation throughout the country.”
Christians, who support the neocon agenda, fail to see the contradictions in their stance. Politician Michael Gove for instance writes an article entitled “Why I’m proud to be a Christian.” However, the same Christian politician, a huge admirer of Tony Blair, the destroyer of Iraq, was also a strong supporter of military action against a government in Syria, which protects Christians.
If Michael Gove had got his way, and direct Western military action against the Syrian government occurred in 2013 – then ISIS would probably be in control of the whole country and there’d be no Christians left.
And let’s mention the great ‘Christian’ Tony Blair himself. His policies in the Middle East have not only caused carnage for Christian and Muslims alike. He was an enthusiastic hawk regarding the illegal bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, which carried on during Orthodox Easter, despite calls from Belgrade for a ceasefire over the religious holiday. Bomber Blair called the Yugoslav move a “diplomatic ploy”which the West would “not fall for.”
Blair has been a hawk on Syria too, urging action against the secular government. Like other neocons he warns us repeatedly about the dangers of extremist Islam, yet targets for ’regime change’ countries whose governments were, or are, a bulwark, against Al-Qaeda and their allies. Confused? You shouldn’t be.
It’s clear that protecting Christians in the Middle East comes very, very low down the list of priorities of Western politicians – even among those very keen to publicly proclaim their Christian faith. What is important in determining western policy- and particularly the policies of the US, Britain and France, are oil interests, the influence of the pro-Israel lobby and keeping in with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states,
The obsession with toppling Assad, whose government is in the front line in the fight against IS, is hard to understand, unless one appreciates that Israel and Saudi Arabia desperately want to break the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis – and that there’s oil in the disputed Golan Heights.
The events of the past 15 years or so have shown us that western elites will go to any lengths to achieve their goals, regardless of the chaos and massive loss of life which ensues. And if Christians are put in mortal danger because of their Middle Eastern and North African ‘interventions’- well, never mind: profits always come before prophets.
By Neil Clark