Plight of Middle East’s Christians deserves more attention
The global refugee crisis continues to grow, with these impoverished and helpless people left to wander without much fanfare from the international community. At the end of 2021, there were more than 89 million displaced people in the world — those who have been forced from their homes but remain in their country of origin — and another 27 million refugees, those who have left their countries and live only on the minimal charitable support of a handful of nations and organizations.
Another crisis involves the fate of the Christians of the Middle East, which is ironic considering this religion began at the heart of the Levant more than 2,000 years ago. Christians in the Middle East are slowly but steadily disappearing, but they get even less attention paid to their plight than the refugees.
While the numbers show a dramatic drop in the total Christian population in the region, the situation is even worse than it looks. Data shows that Christians today make up only about 5 percent of the Middle East’s population, which is down from more than 20 percent in the early 20th century.
However, that does not present an accurate picture of the crisis, considering that the downward trend does not factor in the community’s potential for growth. What I mean is that, if the Christian population of 20 percent had been thriving instead of being persecuted, the population would likely now be bigger.
But persecution, violence from terrorist groups like Daesh, oppression in Israel and everyday discrimination because they are in a minority have forced Christians to seek other venues for survival. Cyprus has the largest Christian population in the region, while only two Arab countries give Christians special status: Jordan and Lebanon.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who has shown great concern for the Christians of the Middle East, on Tuesday expressed his outrage during his speech to the 77th session of the UN General Assembly. He criticized how Israel was abusing Christians, and others, in the city of Jerusalem, which is considered to be the cradle of Christianity along with Bethlehem.
Abdullah’s concerns constituted nearly all of the public discourse on the fate of Christianity in the Middle East. And that is the biggest problem. No one is talking about the vanishing Christians. It is not just the Arab world or Israel that has been muted, but also the so-called Christian world that includes Europe and the US. Their silence is a tragedy.
There has been not a word from US President Joe Biden, the most powerful Christian government leader in the world. Or from Europe, where Christianity found its strongest base.
You cannot really point a finger at the Arab world, which has been racked with violence, civil wars and conflict, and where refugees have become the region’s No. 1 unresolved concern. Lebanon is a disaster, so I do not expect the dysfunctional society there to be able to focus on the needs of Christians any time soon.
It is not just the Arab world or Israel that has been muted, but also the so-called Christian world that includes Europe and the US
Israel claims to care about Christians, but it does nothing for them. Israeli propagandists falsely assert in their massive PR campaigns that Christians are treated better in Israel than in the Arab world. However, the truth is that Christians suffer as badly as Muslims and other non-Jews in Israel and are subjected to the same apartheid discrimination.
Only Abdullah has so far found the time to address their needs, elevating the issue to the global spotlight, even if only for a few minutes before being eclipsed by other major challenges.
The fate of the Middle East’s Christians is not included in the UNs Sustainable Development Goals, which identify 17 major challenges that need to be tackled by 2030. Nothing is perfect, of course, but the overall situation can be improved significantly.
Another cause of their demise is their own failure — their inability to come together in a significant way to exploit the massive influence of the larger Christian world outside of the Middle East to strengthen their voices.
How can Christians demand that the Arab world pay attention to them when the Christian world does not? Christians need to better organize and set aside their differences. They need to demand that the Christian presence be reestablished in a significant way, with communities restored to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
They need a strong voice to advocate for their survival because, if they were to vanish from their Middle East, their spirit would begin to erode throughout the world.
Christianity is based on the miracles of the faith that took place in the Middle East. Those events need to be reenforced and respected, demonstrating that Christians’ history is a part of the history of the Arab world.
It would also help Christians if the Islamic community put the emphasis back on the power that was once the Middle East, symbolized by the simple word “Arab.”
We are Arab. And what happens to us as Arabs is what we should all be concerned about. That might be the only way to save Middle Eastern Christians from extinction.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania