Holy Land.

First the people of the Middle East “Medized” (adapted to Persian rule); then they “Hellenized” (adapted to Greek rule); then they “Romanized” (adapted to Roman rule); then they “Christianized” (accepted Christianity as the sole true faith); and then they “Islamized” (accepted Islam as the sole true faith). Not a great example of sticking to your guns, but pretty normal human behavior.[1] Of course, there were always people who didn’t want to go along. As one leading expert has said, “the Jews are a stiff-necked people.” In similar fashion, some Christians clung to their faith under Islam. As late as 1900, fully a quarter of the population of the Ottoman Empire was Christian.

Then came the tumultuous 20th Century. First, nationalism spread among the Christian peoples of the lower Balkans. In 1908 Austria-Hungary seized Bosnia to keep Serb nationalists from getting their hands on it. In 1912, the Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgarians conquered most of what remained of Turkey-in-Europe. In the early 1920s, the Greeks tried to conquer a big chunk of Turkey that contained many Greek and Armenian Christians. They over-reached and many Christians died or were expelled in the blood-bath that followed. Second, the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire broke up into nation-states that included adherence to Islam in their national identity. Arab birth rates rose (a sign of optimism), while Christians either had small families or emigrated (either one a sign of pessimism). By 2000 Christians made up only five percent of the population of the Middle East.

Since then, things have gotten dramatically worse. The secular dictatorships that ruled Iraq, Syria, and Egypt after they gained independence from the imperial powers had long repressed sectarian conflicts as well as human rights and liberty.[2] The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 toppled one of these regimes. The Syrian civil war weakened another one. The “Arab Spring” let loose sectarian hostilities long held in check by the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Fearful Christians often sided with the secular regimes, so they came to be seen as counter-revolutionary and anti-democratic by those who already had a grievance against them. Faith-based initiatives followed. Both sides in the Sunni-Shi’ite civil war in Iraq targeted Christians.   The bulk of the opponents of the Assad regime have always been conservative Sunni Muslims who leaned toward Islamism. Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood dominated the writing of an Egyptian constitution that assigned a central place in society to Islam. The Morsi government did little to rein-in a wave of popular violence directed against Egyptian Christians.

As a result of this anti-Christian violence, 600,000 Iraqi Christians and 300,000 Syrian Christians had fled abroad by May 2013. Iraqi and Syrian Christians could flee to Turkey, still a peaceful and more-or-less secular state. Egyptian Christians didn’t have that option.[3]

Then there’s Pakistan, where a Christian couple were murdered by a mob on a false charge of blasphemy in Fall 2014. Not the first case of this. Can you say “Leo Frank”?


[1] Still, one can’t help but wonder if the Arabs aren’t the spineless descendants of spineless ancestors.

[2] I suppose one might think of lynching Christians as a “civil right” in a certain kind of society. Kind of like standing Tsarist Russia on its head.

[3] Maybe we could create Xr15t0 visas?


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