Almost a year ago I wrote an article in The Times on the persecution of minority Christians in the Middle East and other regions of the world. This is unfortunately a phenomenon that continues to get worse with the passage of time. For that reason alone, Christians everywhere need to be reminded of the suffering of their brethren and other minorities in these countries as they try to practise their beliefs in a free manner.
These troubled minorities need not only our prayers but also tangible support in any form we can give it. Most evident is that we urge governments to do something in the hope that, through coordination with other European and Western countries, some remedy to this dire situation can be found before it gets worse.
In North Africa and the Middle East, the Arab Spring is turning into a nightmarish experience for many Christians.
From Tunisia to Egypt, Islamist parties have, as many realists had already predicted, gained the ascendancy. The leaders of these parties, despite being described optimistically by some high-placed western sources as being of moderate inclination, have already declared that Sharia will be the principal law in their countries. In Libya, the Transitional Council, which has succeeded Muammar Gaddafi, has also affirmed that Sharia will be the dominant law.
It is not improbable that, as they further consolidate their power, the Islamic parties will become even more radical and throw the initial caution to the wind.
In Egypt, now that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has overwhelmingly won the recent elections, it is expected that the party will continue to dominate the political landscape in the years to come. This reality has already affected the ancient Christian Copt community in Egypt.
According to recent reports, since the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power, more than 100,000 Christian families have emigrated in fear of the anticipated reprisals on them once the Islamic parties entrench their hold on power.
In Iraq, Christian minorities have existed in the region for two millennia. Yet, the violence gripping the country means that they face a terrible choice of either leaving the country or getting killed. Another stark choice is to convert to Islam.
For many of these Christians, who still proudly speak Aramaic, the language of Christ, the level of threat is much higher because they are being associated with the West and recent unhappy events there, including the invasion and occupation of the country. As a result, the numbers of Christians leaving Iraq is growing to disproportionate levels.
It is estimated that there are a million Christians in Iran who live under constant oppression by the authorities that govern the country under a totalitarian Muslim theocracy. It is greatly feared and widely expected that the plight of Christians there will become even more perilous if, as is being strongly suggested by some influential personages, the western powers or Israel decide to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Syria, home to another estimated million Christians, has recently received the influx of hundreds of thousands more fleeing sectarian persecution in Iraq. A take-over by Islamists after the expected fall of Bashar al-Assad in the not-too-distant future will make the life of Syrian Christians almost intolerable.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often turned a blind eye to persecution against Christians in the country despite his many successes in raising Turkey to new levels of prosperity and, at the same time, establishing a democratic and moderate Islamic party in government. This probably gains him more popularity and also wins him votes.
When, recently, the question of Christian persecution in Islamic countries in North Africa and the Middle East was raised in the House of Lords, it was pointed out that Christians in the Anatolian peninsula were being banned from worshipping in public places. In the debate, there was criticism of the British government for showing lack of interest in the matter, probably in order to preserve good relations between the two countries.
It is very unfortunate that, at present, Western governments are fully absorbed in an unending spiral of problems as they hopelessly try to grapple with the financial and economic crises gripping many markets. This leaves them with little room to assert themselves in the world.
In the meantime, the Arab Spring can turn sour. The hope for a new democratic regeneration in the Arab world is still debatable as we witness daily an emerging scenario of intolerance and oppression of minorities.
In the circumstances, is it too much to expect our own government, given the new influence it has gained in the Arab world and Western countries as a result of its constructive stance during the Libyan revolution, to bring to the forefront in international fora the plight of these persecuted minorities, especially Christians?
In these unfortunate circumstances, silence and inaction are certainly no options. As Martin Luther King famously said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.