Middle East Christians Trapped by Islamist Extremists Forge Alliances With Former Foes

ICC Note: The chaos that has spanned the Middle East has been especially dangerous for the region’s Christian minorities. Long viewed as second-class citizens in the largely Muslim region, Islamic Extremists have driven many out altogether. For those who’ve stayed it has required finding protection wherever possible, a choice “between the bitter and more bitter.”

04/13/2015 Lebanon (WSJ) Three decades ago, plainclothes Syrian agents went door to door in this border village seeking out young Christian men, who were abducted and killed in a notorious chapter of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.

The village’s nearly 2,000 Christians now find themselves siding with the same Syrian regime they blame for what many call the 1978 massacre.

That is because a few miles away, hundreds of Islamist extremists tied to al Qaeda and Islamic State stalk the porous border region separating Lebanon and Syria. Standing between the militants and the village are Lebanese troops aided by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, whose men are also fighting for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Yes, I prefer the Syrian regime over these terrorist groups,” a 45-year-old Al-Qaa resident said, but it is a choice “between the bitter and more bitter.”

Here and throughout the Middle East, many Christians, under attack and without the protection of functioning states, face difficult choices amid the region’s roiling sectarian conflicts.

Some are taking sides, others are taking up arms. In Iraq and Syria, for example, Christians fight alongside Kurds against Islamic State, even though some Christians accuse the Kurds of seeking to one day incorporate them and their land into Kurdish-controlled territories.

While both Christians and Muslims suffer from the violent extremism engulfing the region, the stakes and consequences differ, said the Rev. Fadi Daou, a Lebanese Maronite Catholic priest and professor of Christian theology.

In Lebanon and Iraq, Shiite Muslims rely on Hezbollah and other militias backed by Iran. Sunni Muslims, while threatened by the Shiite forces, constitute the region’s majority and are backed by insurgents, Father Daou said.

Christians in Lebanon, meanwhile—long viewed as the region’s most empowered and assertive—“are 10 times weaker than they were in 1975,” said Father Daou, who is also chairman of Adyan, a Western-backed organization that promotes cultural and religious diversity across the Middle East.
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