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Middle Eastern Christians and Radical Islam

ICC Note

There is growing influence of Islamic religion in Egyptian public life. There has been growing persecution of Christians in Iraq since the 2003 war. Christians are being killed and persecuted in Turkey . These are some of disturbing developments in the Middle East as far as persecution of Christians is concerned.

By Henri Tincq

December 19, 2007 Egypt (Watani) – The alarming ‘health bulletins’ and the lists of migrants are never-ending. In the avalanche of news coming from Iraq , Lebanon , Palestine and Turkey , who is still interested in the Christian minorities of the East – ten million, including six million Copts in Egypt ? Those Arabs who are not Muslims, who blur the binary international game (Israel-Palestine, West-Islam) are “too Oriental” to be understood by Westerners, “too Christian” to be secular and progressive currents. “Who is concerned with the fate of those excluded from the grand narrative of ‘West versus East,’ or ‘Jihad against McDo’,” asked Regis Debray during a conference recently held in Paris, which was organized by the European Institute of Religions’ Science (IESR), which he presides over, and l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE).

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But between the plight of Iraqi Christians (500,000 Chaldeans have left the country since the first Gulf War) and the reaffirmed political authority of the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch, the apparent satisfaction of Christians in Jordan and Syria and the marginalization of religious minority (Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Syriac, Jews, etc.) in Turkey; how could one assess the situation of Eastern Christians?

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The novelty is that the hidden thoughts of Christians of the Middle East regarding radical Islam are being expressed out loud. Insecurity, wars, Israel , the attraction of the West are no longer enough to explain the regrets and the exodus. Long spared, by fear, forced loyalty towards Islam or by memory of coexistence over the centuries, “fundamentalism” is now openly denounced. The Muslim fundamentalism is no longer a political or religious “current;” it has become a “culture,” a “way of being,” a “mentality.”

The Coptic Catholic Bishop of Cairo, Bishop Youhanna Golta describes an Egypt where the extremists are gaining ground in public life, schools and universities and the media (60% of programs on TV are religious). For them, “citizenship is first Islam.” A “deaf war” opposes them to a secular and modernist current which does not want that Egypt returns to the Middle Ages. “And yet, there are no two Egypts ,” insists Bishop Golta. “There are no two peoples. Fundamentalism, terrorism are not part of Egyptian culture. These are imports from outside.”

Democratic and Secular Arabism

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In one year, a Catholic priest and three Protestant missionaries have been killed in Turkey . Jean Colosimo, Professor at the Institute Saint-Serge (Paris), denounced the situation of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, primate of Orthodoxy (250 million followers), who is recognized around the world, except in Istanbul where, for the Turks, he is only the “priest of a few thousand Greek Orthodox,” forbidden to reopen his unique seminary at Halki.

What is the way out? At the Paris conference, the Eastern Christians have rejected any possibility of returning to a status of “dhimmitude” claimed by some radicals. Emigration is no better solution: the Christians of the East are now more abroad (Europe, America , and Australia ) than in their countries of origin, and their disappearance would give reason to proponents of the “clash of civilizations.” “We can no longer spend our time lamenting,” says Monsignor Michel Sabbah. We are not Christians facing Muslims, but Christians and Muslims together, in the face of extremism that grows inside Islam.” Another strong voice in the Middle East, Bishop George Khodr, bishop of Mount Lebanon , hopes for the rebirth of a “democratic and secular Arabism” in which Christians and Muslims would again have a common cause. As for Emile Shoufani, a Melkite priest from Nazareth , he invites his co-religionists to be the “translators” between the West and the Muslim world.

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