With attacks against Christians on the rise in majority-Muslim nations in the Middle East, experts say the future of Christianity in the region is gravely threatened.
From the most restrictive countries to the more open ones, Christians are facing an uphill battle for survival in a majority of Middle Eastern countries. In the last ten years and especially in recent months, attacks against churches and Christian populations in Muslim lands have reached crisis proportions.
In almost every majority-Muslim nation in the Middle East the situation of Christians is worsening, according to Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute.
“You are seeing more of this violence across the board….You get governments which may be relatively secular, like Egypt. But the opposition is Islamist,” Marshall told The Daily Caller. “[Governments] want to look like they are defending Islam too. So [countries like] Egypt do not effectively protect its Christian communities.”
More substantial Christian communities, such as the Copts in Egypt, will likely have more of a chance for survival, Marshall said. Those countries in which Christians are already significantly out-numbered will likely see their Christian population vanish unless the violence against them is brought to an end.
“In a lot of the other countries [besides Egypt and Lebanon] where you have smaller [Christian] communities — Morocco, Nigeria, Turkey, Iran — at the moment, the fear is those communities will continue to diminish. It is parallel to Jews about fifty years ago,” said Marshall. “These communities are beginning to go and in a couple of decades, unless the situation changes, you’ll just have remnants of communities. They will die out.”
While avoiding Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis, David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, said he believes Islamists see the fight against the West as also an opportunity to purify their lands of religious minorities — namely Jews and Christians.
“It’s not just about Jews or Israel. What’s unfolding is a struggle between the West — Israel and the United States, Jews and Christians — against this strand of militant Islam. We’re all in this together,” he said.
Marshall noted that the Islamists are not only trying to purify the region of Jews and Christians but all of the various religious minorities.
“We use these monolithic terms like Muslim and Arab and so we miss the minorities even though that part of the world has as many minorities as else where,” he said.
While Marshall said the decrease in tolerance for Christians and other religious minorities is not directly linked to American actions in the Middle East, he does believe that American actions are used as an excuse for attacking Christians who they identify as an appendage of the “Great Satan.”
“In terms of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, those are used by radical groups, terrorist groups, as justification for attacking Christians — eventhough the local Christians did not invade Iraq, they have been their for 2,000 years,” he said.
Brog told TheDC that unless governments step in there is little doubt that the presence of Christians in the region will dramatically taper off, leaving behind a negligible population.
“For every Christian killed, you’re going to see multiples fleeing for their lives. Thus I fear unless governments step up — particularly the governments of Iraq and Egypt — the violence will continue and the exodus will continue and we will see some of the oldest Christian communities on earth disappear,” Brog said.
Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer, concurrs.
“Unless something happens fast there is not going to be a future for Christianity in the Middle East,” she told TheDC.
But while governments may have a humanitarian obligation to step in, Daniel Pipes, founder and director of the Middle East Forum, told TheDC that Christian institutions that have shied away from the conflict in the past, such as the Vatican, would do well to step in.
“I think it is more a matter for Christian institutions, in particular the Vatican, which is always concerned that if it makes noise things will get even worse,” he said.
Pope Benedict XVI briefly touched on the issue in his yearly “State of the World” address last week. Benedict spoke about the intolerance toward Christians throughout the Middle East and the world — calling on those in power to act to help Christians fighting for survival.
”Looking to the east, the attacks which brought death, grief and dismay among the Christians of Iraq, even to the point of inducing them to leave the land where their families have lived for centuries, has troubled us deeply. To the authorities of that country and to the Muslim religious leaders, I renew my heartfelt appeal that their Christian fellow-citizens be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members,” he said.
The fact that Christians are being forced out of Muslim lands at this moment in history is “particularly ironic,” according to Pipes.
“I think the future is bleak,” said Pipes, “and it comes at a particularly ironic moment when the Muslim populations, in the traditional Christian world, are burgeoning. It is not just in terms of numbers, but they are demanding rights [in the West] and so it is almost a mirror reflection of what is going on in traditional Muslim countries.”