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ICC Note: Why does it really matter if Christians stay in the Middle East? Why don’t they just leave? These questions cut to the heart of what is happening politically across the region. The vast majority of those living in the Middle East want to establish a system of governance that is inclusive off all peoples, regardless of their faith or other markers. If religious extremists are able to drive Christians out and establish an Islamic state, it will not be long before that same ideology will be applied on all those who fail to hold the extremist’s interpretations.
By: Roger Scruton
03/19/2014 Middle East (Forbes) – On February 24th of this year, a group of Egyptian workers in Libya was rounded up by an Islamist gang. It is normal for Egyptian Copts to bear witness to their faith, with a cross tattooed on their wrist. (Image of coptic cross on wrist) Those workers who were tattooed with a cross were taken apart and shot. Nobody has been brought to justice for this crime. The Egyptian government has lodged no complaint, and the Libyan government (if that is not too polite a description) has made no comment. For many people living in the Middle East, crimes against Christians are what we must now expect.
When, in the first flush of enthusiasm for the Arab Spring, our politicians welcomed the move towards democracy, it became rapidly clear that they had no understanding either of Islamic law, or of the kinds of government that have been erected on the back of it. The shar‘iah – the Holy Law that has been extracted down the centuries from the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet – is a law for the government of Muslims. It offers protection to ‘people of the Book’ (i.e. Christians and Jews), but not an equal status before the law. And it is based on a strictly religious code of conduct, enforced by penalties that even its staunchest defenders are on the whole embarrassed to advocate.

Jurists have great difficulty in adapting such a law to the life of modern people. Moreover, precisely because the shar’iah has not adapted, nobody really knows what it says. Does it tell us to stone adulterers to death? Some say yes, some say no. Does it tell us that investing money at interest is in every case forbidden? Some say yes, some say no. When God makes the laws, the laws become as mysterious as God is. When we make the laws, and make them for our purposes, we can be certain what they mean. The only question then is ‘who are we?’ What way of defining ourselves reconciles democratic elections with real opposition and individual rights? That, to my mind, is the most important question facing the West today. And it is a question to which the Islamists give the wrong answer – the answer that sets them in conflict with the modern world.
It is for this reason that the fate of the Middle Eastern Christians is of such importance to us in the West. We have learned that, when we legislate for the whole community, we must put religion to one side. We do this because we are heirs to the Christian idea of secular government, enshrined in Christ’s commandment to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’, in other words to privatize religion and to live by a man-made rule of law.
In the Middle East the Christian communities have remained loyal to that ideal. When the states of Lebanon and Syria were carved out of the ruined Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War they contained large numbers of Christians – in Lebanon probably a majority. But in both cases the Christians advocated national and secular government, with a division of offices between the various sects. The shi‘ites accepted this at the time, since – having been judged heretical by the Ottomans and therefore outside the law – they were happy to live under a secular jurisdiction and to share it with their Druze and Christian neighbours.

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