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We Must Not Forget the Plight of Middle Eastern Christians

By Rowan Williams
December 22, 06

One warning often made and systematically ignored in the hectic days before the Iraq War was that Western military action -- at that time and in that way -- would put Christians in the whole Middle East at risk. They would be seen as supporters of the crusading West. At the very least, some were asking, shouldn't we have a strategy about how to handle this?

Well, we didn't have one. And the results are now painfully adding to what was already a difficult situation for Christian communities across the region. Iraq's Christian population is dropping by thousands every couple of months and some of their most effective leaders have been forced to emigrate. In Istanbul, the Orthodox population is a tiny remnant, and their Patriarch is told by some of the Turkish press that it's time he left. In Egypt, where Christian-Muslim relations have been -- and still are -- intimate and good, attacks on Christians are notably more frequent.

As well as finding asylum difficult to get, it's not unknown for Arab Christian families fleeing to the UK to find that their children are told in school that "they must be Muslims really" and so are hived off with Muslim children for special activities. And that simply illustrates that we, from the Government downwards, are seriously badly informed about Middle Eastern Christians.

Yet for centuries they have played a crucial role in practically all of those nations we now regard as uniformly Muslim, even Iran. They have been a reminder for both the Arab world and the West that "Arab" and "Muslim" are not the same -- and that Muslim nations have a history of coping hospitably with Christians on their doorstep. As Christian populations migrate, it all fuels the myth in East and West -- that Islam can't live with other faiths and that the East-West collision is an irreconcilable clash of faiths and cultures.

Yet Christians can genuinely be part of the solution. In Lebanon, Christian communities offered the most promising schemes for lasting peace during the summer's conflict and peace plans developed by the Maronite Church are widely acknowledged as bringing the most realistic contribution to the search for peace between warring factions.

Of course Christian communities don't have a blameless history in the region. But they have something special to say. To the Westerner, they say: "Remember that Christianity didn't start in England or even Rome; it's a Middle Eastern faith." To Muslims, they say: "Remember that Islam would not have spread as it did without the way being prepared (as the Koran itself says) by the other local religions -- by Christians and Jews. Remember that there are ways of being authentically Arab, non-Western, that don't have to be Islamic."

These communities will survive only if fellow Christians in the West decide to pay a bit of attention. This doesn't mean using clumsy political or military pressure to "protect" them, in ways that only reinforce the idea that they're Western allies and so must be unreliable. That's happened too often in the past. It means being willing to protest when they are ill-treated; to make contact with them, to set up links between local churches here and in the Middle East; to remember when we visit the region that they exist and need friends. It's not that these Christians are being persecuted by Muslim governments on the whole. It's a matter of rising tides of extremism, which governments are as keen to check as anyone.

Speaking up for and befriending the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East is good for them and for Muslims too; it's a reminder of the healthier and saner relationship between the faiths that existed in many parts of the Middle East for long tracts of its complicated history.

It comes home most poignantly in the Holy Land itself. I have spent the past two days with fellow Christian leaders in Bethlehem, its Christian population down to barely a quarter. There are some disturbing signs of Muslim anti-Christian feeling, despite the consistent traditions of coexistence. But their plight is made still more intolerable by the tragic conditions created by the "security fence" that almost chokes the shrinking town -- the dramatic poverty, soaring unemployment and sheer practical hardship of travelling to school, work or hospital. The sense of desperate isolation is felt by Christians more acutely than most.

Once heavily represented among the professional classes, many feel they have no choice but to leave. One Christian Palestinian friend said to me: "I never imagined that people like us would find ourselves hungry, unemployed, facing daily violence." Some of the people who would be most helpful in making Palestinian society stronger and more democratic feel they have no future in the Holy Land: to the zealots on one side they are potential terrorists, to the zealots on the other they may be seen as infidels. And unfortunately it's the zealots who make the running.

The first Christian believers were Middle Easterners. It's a sobering thought that we might live to see the last native Christian believers in the region. It's not a problem we can go on ignoring if we care about the health and stability of the Middle East; we need to confront it, not by weighing in with firepower but by making real relationships with the communities there and working at trustful contacts with those Muslims who understand their own history and want to live in a lively, varied culture.

This Christmas, pray for the little town of Bethlehem, and spare a thought for those who have been put at risk by our short-sightedness and ignorance; and ask what you might do locally to raise the profile of these brave and ancient Churches.

By Rowan Williams





Gifts for the Children of Nineveh
Christmas presents for the Nineveh Kids

Who are the Christians of Iraq?

Kanoon I = December

We Must Not Forget the Plight of Middle Eastern Christians D

Avoiding the Final Betrayal: Protecting Iraqi Christians December 23, 06

Nina Shea Testifies Before Congress on Behalf of Iraq's Assyrians
and Other Minorities
December 23, 06

Conference in Sweden Calls for Assyrian Safe-haven in Iraq December 21, 06

Christians thrown to the lions in Iraq December 21, 06

Iraqi refugees - a tragedy stretching beyond Syria December 19, 06

Iraqi Christians under fire December 19, 06

Fleeing Nineveh: Assyrians of Iraq and Self Governance December 18, 06

No Christmas Celebrations in Iraq, Says Chaldean Patriarch December 18, 06

Groups call for relief for Iraqi Christians December 18, 06

Methodists Highlight the Plight of Indigenous Iraqi Christians December 17, 06

Pontiff Appeals for Aid for Iraqi Refugees in Syria December 17, 06

Christmas in Mosul Under Threat of Sharia December 15, 06

Kurds and the Assyrian Homeland December 15, 06

Assyrian National Party rejects Baker-Hamilton's plans December 15, 06

U.S. Iraqi Christian Community Debates How to Help Relatives December 15, 06

Deviousness of the Kurdish officials December 14, 06

Iraq Insurgents Threaten Attacks Against Christian Women December 14, 06

Gifts for the Children of Nineveh December 13, 06

Help Our Assyrian Children December 13, 06

Iraq : Another Pries Feared Kidnapped December 10, 06

Iraq shapes the Assyrian cadet's background, future December 10, 06

Jordan, Syria May Close Borders to Iraqi Refugees December 9, 06

Visitors from Iraq December 8, 06

Assyrian Delegation in the European Parliament December 8, 06

Private Saudis Said to Fund Iraq Insurgents December 7, 06

Terrorists Bomb Church in Iraq December 7, 06

Iraq Is the Fastest-Growing Refugee Crisis in the World December 5, 06

Iraqi Christians plead for help, tell of 'ethnic cleansing' December 5, 06

Assyrian Christians 'Most Vulnerable Population' in Iraq December 5, 06

One Priest Killed in Iraq, another abucted December 5, 06

Comparing the Muslim and Christian Conceptions of God December 4, 06

Assyrian Delegation from Georgia Visits North Iraq December 4, 06

Another clergy murdered in Mosul December 4, 06

Dutch EP Member Inquiry Into Assassination of Assyrian Leader December 3, 06

Assyrians: Iraq's Overlooked Victims December 2, 06

Christians for Assyrians of Iraq Plan Demonstration December 2, 06

Iraq's Vatican Ambassador Seeks More Help December 2, 06

Assyrian Delegation At the European Parliament December 1, 06

Relief Agency Sheltering Iraqi Chaldean Refugees in Turkey December 1, 06

The Turkmen: Eerie Silence in Northern Iraq December 1, 06

Tishrin II = November

Plight of Iraq's Christians Gets Worse November 30, 06

Sadr Followers Target Assyrian School Girls in Baghdad November 30, 06

"Mass Grave Discovery" In Turkey As Pope Continues Trip November 30, 06

First cuneiform inscription of Rabat Tepe 2 discovered November 29, 06

Kidnapped priest released in Baghdad November 29, 06

Turkish President Vetoes Christian Property Rights Law November 29, 06

In Lebanon, a Crisis for Christians November 28, 06

Christmas presents for the Nineveh Kids November 28, 06

Sweden to Investigate Assyrian Mass Graves in Turkey November 27, 06

Assyrian Leader Assassinated for Advocating Assyrian Autonomy Nov. 27, 06

Europe and the Ambiguities of Multiculturalism Nov. 26, 06

Opening Eyes To Plight Of Assyrians Nov. 25, 06

A Safe Haven for Assyrians is a Must Nov. 24, 06

‘Lies in Turkish’ Nov. 24, 06

Lebanon in shock after killing of Christian politician Nov. 22, 06

A lecture entitled "Massacres and Resistance Nov. 22, 06

Britain's House of Lords Discusses Assyrian CaseoNov. 20, 06

Baghdad: priest missing, feared kidnapped Nov. 20, 06

Kurds remove Arabs and Assyrians thru violence Nov. 19, 06

Kurdish Officials Employ Saddam Hossain's Tactics Nov. 19, 06

Nuri Kino on Swedish National TV argues the Assyrian cause Nov.18, 06

Professors Dr. Otto Jastrow and Shabo Toroyo Assyrian Dictionary Nov.16, 06

Bishops, commission plead for help for Iraqi Christians Nov.15, 06

Turkey Tries to Escape Its History Nov.14, 06

Terrorists Blast Iraqi Church Nov.12, 06

The Non-reaction to the Murder of an Assyrian Priest Nov.12, 06

Turkey Gives Non-Muslims the Right to Own Property Nov.12, 06

Hermit Assyrian nun is anything but reclusive Nov.10, 06

Fresh Concern Expressed About Iraq's Assyrians Nov.10, 06

Silencing Ancient Echoes: Iraq's Christians Nov. 9, 06

The Non-reaction to the Murder of an Assyrian Priest Nov. 9, 06

Iraqi bishop calls for Christian gathering: unite to be counted and more secure
Nov. 8, 06

Proud Assyrian Survivor Can Move on Nov. 7, 06

Assyrian Genocide Victims Discovered In Turkey: Report Nov. 6, 06

DONNY GEORGE former Chairman, Board of Antiquities, Iraq Nov. 6, 06

Assyrian areas in northern Iraq as shown in a map by Newsweek Nov. 3, 06

Church calls for action over violence toward Christians in Iraq Nov. 2, 06

Turkey's World War One Massacres Covered up by the Military” Nov. 2, 06

This Was Genocide, But Armenians Were Not Its Only Victims Nov. 1, 06

Autonomous Region for Iraq's Assyrians Nov. 1, 06

Tishrin 1 = October

The West Turns a Blind Eye to the Ethnic Cleansing of Christians in Iraq
Oct. 31, 06

U.S. Bishops Call for Protection of Iraq's Christians Oct. 30, 06

Hood celebrates 150th anniversary of Assyrian reliefs Oct. 30, 06

Assyrian History On Display Oct. 29, 06

Freedom of Religion Key for All in Iraq Oct. 29, 06

14 years young Assyrian boy decapitated in Iraq Oct. 29, 06

Assyrian civic club marks 60 years Oct. 27, 06

From Discovery to Dartmouth: The Assyrian Reliefs Oct. 27, 06

Sargis Aghajan: A Saint or a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing? Oct. 26, 06

Priest Sends SOS for Christians in Iraq; Faithful Flee, Churches Close
in Baghdad

Oct. 25, 06

The World Must Speak About the ongoing Assyrian Genocide Oct. 25, 06

Iraqi Militias Conducting Ethnic Cleansing Campaign Against Baghdad's
Oct. 23, 06

Pope Urges World Leaders to Help Iraqis Rebuild Troubled Nation
Oct. 23, 06

Iraq's Christian Assyrians: Living in Fear Oct. 23, 06

Assyrians built aqueducts to bring water to Nineveh predating Romans by
400 years
.Oct. 23, 06

Hope for Assyrian Christians 'Rapidly Dying,' Says Former Iraqi Minister
Oct. 20, 06

Christians Live in Fear of Death Squads in Iraq Oct. 20, 06

Congresswoman Esho's Letter to Rice about the endengered Christians
of Iraq
Oct. 20, 06


Iraq: Christian Minority Seeks Haven From Violence Oct. 19, 06

GEORGIA: Will mob halt Assyrian Catholic centre? Oct. 19, 06

Ancient ruins inspire hope in U.S. forces in Pre-Christian Iraq . Oct. 18, 06

Christian Migration From Mid-East At Heart of Patriarchs' Meeting
Oct. 19, 06

Assyrian language Lecture and Seminar in London Oct. 19, 06

Save Us from the Time of Trial Oct. 18, 06

Persecution of non-Muslims increases in Iraq. Oct. 18, 06

In Iraq, a New Level of Threat to Christians Oct. 17, 06

World Has Forgotten Iraqi Christians: Chaldean Patriarch Oct. 16, 06

Some 500 people attend funeral of beheaded priest Oct. 16, 06

Christians are vacating land of Christ Oct. 15, 06

Threats force Iraqi Christians to flee to Syria Oct. 15, 06

Turkey starts to admit it has an ‘Armenian Question Oct. 15, 06

Some Turks change religion as way to West Oct. 14, 06

Beleaguered Yazidi find peace high in Iraq's northern mountains
Oct. 14, 06

Beheading of Iraqi priest latest attack on minorities Oct. 14, 06

Kurdish Militia Attacks Assyrian TV Station in North Iraq Oct. 13, 06

Iraq priest 'killed over pope's speech' Oct. 13, 06

More than 35,000 Christians have fled violence in Iraq Oct. 13, 06

Prominent Assyrian Priest Beheaded Oct. 12, 06

Father Paulos Iskandar Killed by Terrorist Abductors Oct. 12, 06

Who Will Remember the Assyrian Genocide? Oct. 11, 06

Abducted and raped, young Christian women and girls are driven to
suicide in Iraq
Oct. 11, 06

Was the genocide of the Ottoman Empire in1915 only against the
Armenians, or included Assyrians also?
Oct. 10, 06

Traditional Assyrian Costumes Oct. 9, 06

Organisation and Substitutionism Oct. 8, 06

A Nation Without a Country Oct. 8, 06

Swedish authorities honor Malfono Gabriel Afram Oct. 7, 06

Christian husband and wife converts from Islam released Oct. 7, 06

Terror campaign targets Christians of Iraq Oct. 6, 06

In 20 years, there will be no more Christians in Iraq' Oct. 5, 06

\FIRST-PERSON: Assyrian haircut Oct. 5, 06

The Assyrians: Ignored Among Fears of an Iraqi Civil War Oct. 4, 06

Two Iranian Christians arrested in Mashad. Oct. 4, 06

Car Bombs at the Christian Assyrian shopping district in Baghdad killed 16,
injured 87
Oct. 4, 06

30 Christian families receive threats to leave Mosul - Iraq Oct. 2, 06

Mr. Sarkis Aghajan, the Finance Minister of the Kurdistan regional
Government Asks for more rights for the Assyrians
Oct. 2, 06


August, September 06

June, July 06
March April May 06
February 06
December05 Januray 06