Daniel Pipes at FrontPage has an update on the plight of Christians in Iraq — a story we have been following here for months.
Pipes doesn’t ask why this is happening. I am in regular daily contact with Christians from the Middle East, and it seems clear that they are unwilling to accept the discrimination and precariousness of dhimmi life. Forty years ago, when secularism was much more vital in many important Middle Eastern countries, dhimmitude was largely a receding historical memory. Now Muslims are reasserting many of its features even in secular countries, to their own detriment: I have spoken with a large number of Syrians (ironically, since Syria is the Iraqi Christians’ refuge) who left because they knew they would never be able to get decent jobs as Christians, or even, in some cases, a decent education. Consequently Syria faces a brain drain that could have enormous implications for the country’s future.
“What are the Muslims doing?” asked Brother Louis, a deacon at the Our Lady of Salvation, an Assyrian Catholic church in Baghdad minutes after it had been bombed. “Does this mean that they want us [Christians] out?”
Well, yes, it does. Our Lady of Salvation was just one of five churches attacked in a series of coordinated explosions in Baghdad and Mosul on Aug. 1, a Sunday, between 6 and 7 o”clock in the evening. In total, these car bombings killed 11 persons and injured 55. In addition, the police defused another two bombs.
The timing of the assault guaranteed a maximum number of casualties. August 1 is a holy day for some Iraqi Christian denominations and because Sunday is an ordinary workday in mostly Muslim Iraq, Sunday services take place in the evening….
These assaults have prompted Iraqi Christians, one of the oldest Christian bodies in the world, to leave their country in record numbers. An Iraqi deacon observed some months ago that “On a recent night the church had to spend more time on filling out baptismal forms needed for leaving the country than they did on the [worship] service. … Our community is being decimated.” Iraq’s minister for displacement and migration, Pascale Icho Warda, estimates that 40,000 Christians left Iraq in the two weeks following the Aug. 1 bombings.
Whereas Christians make up just 3 percent of the country”s population, their proportion of the refugee flow into Syria is estimated anywhere between 20 and 95 percent. Looking at the larger picture, one estimate finds that about 40 percent of the community has left since 1987, when the census found 1.4 million Iraqi Christians.
Although Muslim leaders uniformly condemned the attacks (Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani termed them “criminal actions,” while the interim Iraqi government bravely declared that “This blow is going to unite Iraqis”), they almost certainly mark a milestone in the decline and possible disappearance of Iraqi Christianity.
This seems all the more likely because Christians, due mainly to Islamist persecution and lower birth rates, are disappearing from the Middle East as a whole.
Â· Bethlehem and Nazareth, the most identifiably Christian towns on earth, enjoyed a Christian majority for nearly two millennia, but no more. In Jerusalem, the decline has been particularly steep: in 1922, Christians slightly outnumbered Muslims and today they make up less than 2 percent of the city”s population.
Â· In Turkey, Christians numbered 2 million in 1920 but now only a few thousand remain.
And just a few years before that, they were substantially more than two million.
Â· In Syria, they represented about one-third of the population early last century; now they account for less than 10 percent.
Â· In Lebanon, they made up 55 percent of the population in 1932 and now under 30 percent.
Â· In Egypt, for the first time ever Copts have been emigrating in significant numbers since the 1950s.
At present rates, the Middle East’s 11 million Christians will in a decade or two have lost their cultural vitality and political significance.
It bears noting that Christians are recapitulating the Jewish exodus of a few decades earlier. Jews in the Middle East numbered about a million in 1948 and today total (outside Israel) a mere 60,000.
In combination, these ethnic cleansings of two ancient religious minorities mark the end of an era. The multiplicity of Middle Eastern life, most memorably celebrated in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet (1957-60), is being reduced to the flat monotony of a single religion and a handful of approved languages. The entire region, not just the affected minorities, is impoverished by this narrowing.