There’s been renewed American media coverage and discussion of the Middle East’s Christian population as a result of Islamic State’s (ISIS) purging of Christians in Mosul. While this attention is good, the entire presentation and discussion of current threats to the region’s Christians continues to be driven by distorted assumptions, contributing to a false and dangerous narrative that will only exacerbate and prolong the persecution. This false narrative tends to assume that western countries are benevolent players in the region, standing up for the rights of native Christians and against Islamic extremism.
France’s recent declaration of amnesty and resettlement assistance for Iraqi Christians was met, in various Christian and conservative corners, with celebration and adulation. Why can’t the U.S. issue the same appeal as France? “Why not us?” …some commentators are asking. Yet this completely ignores the root of the real threat to the Middle East’s Christians. This week’s official statement by the Orthodox Church of Antioch speaks to the heart of the problem, and cuts through the false narrative:
In the midst of all destruction which is taking place in the Middle East and with the recent events like killings and displacements which affected Christians and others, and in the midst of the conflicts in Syria and the attack on Gaza, we hear some officials of Western governments giving declarations from time to time or publishing some “studies” to express their unreal empathy with Christians of certain areas and showing their solidarity with them, describing their circumstances in a way that supports the logic of minorities. But the most recent of these declarations is that of the French government regarding its readiness to accept the Iraqi Christians and granting them a political asylum, in addition to the study issued by the American Ministry of Foreign Affairs that describes the presence of the Christians in the Middle East as “a shadow of its former status”.
We, in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, would like to confirm that the difficult circumstances in the East do not justify anybody’s attempt to misuse them as “Trojan Horse” to empty the East from its Christians, declaring that what Christians are confronting in the East is similar to what is happening to religious or ethnic minorities in other places of the world. We believe that helping the inhabitants of the East, Christians or Muslims, starts with uprooting terrorism from its homeland and stop nourishing the movements of extremism and Takfirism (religious prejudice) , whose financial resources are very well known as well as the states and the governments that offer them the ideological, logistic and military support through undeclared international alliances.
Some American Christians might be bewildered at such a harsh condemnation of France’s offer from the Orthodox Church, but some essential background information is necessary.
First and foremost, it must be remembered that the Islamist groups that have been, for at least the past two years, targeting Christians for kidnapping, extortion, and murder, are funded, armed, trained, and politically supported by Western and NATO powers and their Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Above left: Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, in northern Syria in May 2013 with rebel “Free” Syrian Army Colonel Abdul-Jabbar who at that time was head of the western backed and funded Aleppo Military Council (video here). Above right: “Free” Syrian Army Colonel Abdul-Jabbar with ISIS Emir Abu Jandal after their forces jointly capture Menagh Military Airbase in Aleppo province, August 2013 (video here and here). [Photo and commentary courtesy of Orontes:Syrian Christians in a Time of Conflict]
As I detailed last February, the terrorist coalition that attacked the Christian towns of Maaloula and Saidnaya included not just the “bad Islamists” like Al-Nusra (in Washington’s rhetoric), but “Free Syrian Army” units as well, which are directly supported by Washington, even the point of receiving US government paid salaries. As for groups like Nusra (a transplant of Al-Qaeda in Iraq), Islamic Front, and ISIS, these are funded out of Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait -all allies of the West and Washington.
When Middle Eastern Christian leaders frequently speak of the “West’s silence” when it comes to the systematic razing of churches, they aren’t just pointing to a failure to speak out, but are highlighting the actual complicity of Western policy-makers.
France itself led the way in getting the EU to lift an arms embargo on Syria, for the express purpose of allowing weapons/money to flow to Islamist rebel groups (the very groups now persecuting Christians). Now that these very groups (that France itself has given some degree of material support to) are cleansing Eastern Syria/Iraq of its ancient Christian population, France presents itself as the benevolent “good guy” ready to receive Christians with outstretched arms. The Patriarchate of Antioch certainly understands that refugees need help, but is ultimately calling out France (and others in the West) for its contradictory and hypocritical policies. Instead, the Patriarchate says that France should be “helping the people of the Levant, Christians and Muslims… by uprooting terrorism from their land and stop nurturing the takfiri groups.”
It’s further important to understand that the Christians of the Middle East present a real problem for Western policy makers. Christians have been integrally linked to nationalist Arab politics of the 20th century. They are not, like many in the West assume, a mere forgotten minority on the sidelines, but are key parts of Levantine societies (esp. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine). Go to any major city in the near East and you’re likely to find large, ancient churches dominating the skyline alongside Muslim minarets. Middle East Christians have consistently voiced that any future political solution to the region must involve the input of the region’s sizeable and influential Christians.
Sadly, “western solutions” to Middle East problems have sought to completely sideline the Christian component in these societies. This is partly because it has long been official Western policy to actively fight against Arab nationalism (a movement founded by Orthodox Christians like Constantin Zureiq and Michel Aflaq). More recently it’s been the policy of the West to woo the region away from pluralistic secular nationalism (represented by the Ba’ath for example), and to instead impose ethno-religious statelets, which spells trouble for the Christians. Western planners have made no room for Middle East Christians in their schemes.
One potential map of the Middle East, created by retired Col. Ralph Peters, envisions a future division according to Shia, Sunni, Kurdish regions, with absolutely no place for Christians, who will be “cleansed” through genocide or forced immigration. One article Peters wrote was called “Blood Borders” because he admitted that minorities would have to be killed off for his map to make sense! (Yes, as in well-known FOX News contributor Ralph Peters).
While some might understandably benefit by France’s latest offer, and this is good for those individuals and families who have already suffered enough, the Patriarchate has a firm understanding of the current and future designs of Western policy makers. Ethno-religious sectarianism was not a shaping reality for 20th century Arab nationalist movements, but is the long-term strategic plan of Saudi Arabia. Through the help of its closest ally, the United States, along with other western countries, the logic of sectarianism is being implemented, and there are few who understand the nature of the game.