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ICC Note:
Amidst an increasingly volatile atmosphere for Christians throughout the Middle East, which countries, if any, will provide a safe haven for Christians and what should be the response of the international community, including the Vatican? Joseph Bottum attempts to answer these questions for Hudson New York.  
By Joseph Bottum
11/17/2011 Middle East (Hudson New York) – Of the eight million people or so living in Israel, around 20% are Arabs—of whom about 7% are Christian. Israel’s Arab Christians, in other words, number only about 110,000 people, living mostly in tight communities in Jerusalem and the Galilee.
For all the solicitous attention paid to them by such international Christian organizations as the World Council of Churches, you would think they were a larger and more important group. Much of the Vatican’s diplomacy—its occasionally adversarial relations with Israel, its Palestinian favoritism, its reluctance to condemn the Islamic dictatorships—derives from its belief that the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East are at risk, and that the best way to defend them is to be seen to side with Arabs against their perceived enemies.
Hard to say the Vatican is wrong about the first part. At the beginning of the twentieth century, large numbers of Christians still lived in their traditional Orthodox and Catholic communities, from the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos all the way around the Mediterranean—through Asia Minor, down the Levant, and across North Africa to Morocco. In 1914, they made up 25% of Ottoman Empire.
The next year the Turks began the systematic part of their slaughter of the Armenians, and the churches of the Middle East have been in catastrophic decline ever since. By 2001, Christians were down to less than 1% of the Turkish population. The recent news out of Egypt—thousands of Coptic Christians fleeing the country since March, with 28 killed and hundreds wounded in Cairo on October 9—is only the latest installment in the ongoing story of the dying of ancient Christianity in the Middle East. The single most dangerous thing in the world to be, right now, is a member of a Christian community in a Muslim country.
The second part of the Vatican’s view of the Middle East, however—the idea that what is left of the Christians can be defended by trying to forge relations with Muslim extremists—has proved dangerously wrong, both as an understanding of the Christians’ situation and as a strategy for helping them.

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