Obama ``ignores’’ fears of Middle East Christians
By Richard L. Russell
US President Barack Obama loudly proclaimed his enthusiasm for democracy in the Middle East in his second inaugural address but those lofty words ring hollow when one surveys the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East which are increasingly besieged.
The American drive to establish democracies by the use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been blessings for Christian communities in either country. Iraq’s Christian population before the 2003 war was 800,000 to 1.4 million but is now less than 500,000 today.
Afghanistan’s constitution “guarantees” freedom of religion’’ but such is not the case. As reported, Christians in Afghanistan are compelled to worship in secret least they be accused of apostasy for converting to Christianity, a charge punishable by death.
The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime in Cairo is less willing and able to protect the Christian Copt community than its predecessor Hosni Mubarak. Many Copts—an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people—live in fear that Egypt is on the path to an Islamic regime.
Some observers judge that the uprising in Syria has become dominated by Islamists, who—should they gain power—would persecute Syria’s Christian community. About 300,000 Christian Syrians have already fled Syria.
Some in Lebanon’s Christian community politically cooperate with Hezbollah. Other Lebanese Christians are fleeing because they foresee the time coming when Hezbollah fully controls the government. Christians are now less than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population.
Christian Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza continue to be squeezed out of Palestinian society, economy, and land. The Christian community has been reduced to almost insignificance and lost in the fray between the Israelis, the secular Palestinian Authority and Islamist Hamas.
In the Gulf, Christians face a mixed bag of challenges. Christian communities, mainly migrant workers mostly from Asia, are quietly able to practise their faith in the small, rich Arab Gulf states.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia still does not allow the construction of a church in the kingdom to support its large foreign expatriate communities. The Saudi government openly bans worship of faiths even though the number of Catholics in the country hovers around 800,000.
In Iran, the Assyrian Christian population has decreased from about 100,000 in the mid-1970s to about 15,000 today. More than 300 Christians have been arrested since mid-2010, churches operate in fear and Christian converts face persecution.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws increasingly are wielded more broadly and deeply against Christians. Christians only make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people.
President Obama is fond of saying that Islam is a tolerant religion. He often repeated this assertion and other American politicians, and world leaders, have followed suit with similar claims.
As we often teach our children, listen to what people say, but even more importantly, watch what they do. A steely-eyed look at those Middle East countries with predominantly Muslim populations shows that Christian communities are under unofficial societal, if not official government, sieges.