Imagining a Middle East Without Christians
In the crosshairs of the burgeoning Caliphate, and its brutal conquest, the Middle East’s Christian minority finds itself in the existential balance, facing the all-but-imminent threat of complete annihilation. The Islamic State’s bloodlust will not be satisfied until it achieves a religiously homogeneous, monolithic society. A Middle East completely void of Christians is a menacing prospect. The eradication of Christians will rock the Middle East’s social balance, and enable the Islamic State’s soldiers of Jihad to reach a one-time inaccessible, moderate Muslim demographic, and thus, afford the Islamic State additional momentum in their already unprecedented advance.
Despite constituting a relatively small community, Christians, through the ages, have served a pivotal role in stabilizing Middle Eastern society at large. There’s a clear nexus between Christian presence in the Middle East and the moderating effect they’ve had in the Muslim-majority communities in which they’ve resided. Many Christian communities are multilingual, and maintain various ethnic identities, customs, and historical narratives. This manifestly pluralistic socio-cultural construct cultivated a deep-rooted sense of tolerance in societies shared between Christians and Muslims. “Love thy neighbor” proved to be an infectious principle, which often allowed Muslim neighbors to see the humanity in their Christian compatriots.
In his keynote address at a conference on Christian persecution, Jordan’s King Abdullah proclaimed that “Christians have always played a key role in building our societies and defending our nations.” Christians have traditionally been among the Middle East’s foremost opinion makers, leaders in academia, innovators in the arts and sciences, and trailblazers in business and industry. This can be credited to their affinity for western ideals. As such, Christians had a far-reaching macro effect on the greater Middle Eastern tableau.
It may come as a surprise to many that Christians were among the foremost pioneers in Arab political thought, ushering in what is considered to be the most progressive chapter in Arab political history. Christians played a leading intellectual role in the Nahda — the Arab political, cultural, and literary renaissance of the early twentieth century — which propelled the Middle East forward after centuries of deterioration under the Ottoman Empire. Christians championed a western-style, secular, nation-state paradigm, which centered national focus on a unified Arab national identity, common language, culture, and history.
This Christian-led surge of secular Arab nationalism served as a neutralizing counterbalance to pan-Islamic identity, thereby affording Christians protection from oppressive Islamist political ideology. While many Christians in the Middle East did not ethnically self-identify as Arab — rather as Assyrian, Copt, Lebanese Phoenician or Syriac — the impassioned call for Arab nationalism was a reasoned strategic maneuver to ensure their survival, and secure their place in society. Such political steering gave rise to the secular Ba’ath party of Bashar al-Assad, which, despite its many sins, protects its loyal Christian minority.
Jihadists are well-aware of the causal link between the Christian presence in the Middle East and the moderating effect it’s had on their Muslim neighbors and fellow countrymen. Islamists aim to reverse that effect by exterminating the remaining Christians. According to Nina Shea, of the Hudson Institute, the absence of Christians in the Middle East would cause a “narrowing of beliefs” and open the flood gates for mass radicalization. Eradicating Christians from Dar al Islam will eventually cause the remaining, once peaceful, Muslim population to eventually become more receptive to Jihadi ideology, and thus, contribute to the further advance of the Caliphate. A hyper-radicalized Islamist super-state, rid of its religious minorities, would next look westward.
As it stands, the only way the Islamic State’s ferocious advance, and Christian genocide, can be halted is through swift, resolute and overwhelming military response from a coalition of western powers. Such military action must also be supplemented by the establishment of an internationally protected Christian safe haven in the Nineveh Plain. If the west fails to respond sufficiently, or at all, the Islamic State will remain on its current course of butchery and conquest. If the slaughter and forced conversions continue uninterrupted, the Middle East’s age-old, indigenous Christian population will invariably face extinction, thus allowing the Islamic State to easily expand its sphere of terror. This is not a prospect the world can afford.
Richard Ghazal is an intelligence officer in the United States Air Force, a Juris Doctor candidate at New England Law, Boston, and an ordained deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect the official position or policy of the United States Department of Defense.