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Friday, December 31, 2010

Now Christians Are The Main Target In Iraq--And Bethlehem Too

In Iraq, Christians have been the victims of 10 attacks since October:
One week after an Islamic extremist group vowed to kill Christians in Iraq, a cluster of 10 bomb attacks rattled Baghdad on Thursday night and sent additional tremors of fear through the country’s already shaken Christian minority.

Two people were killed and 20 wounded, all of them Christians, according to the Ministry of the Interior. The bombs were placed near the homes of at least 14 Christian families around the city, and four bombs were defused before they could explode.

Christians have been flooding out of the country since the siege of Our Lady of Salvation, a Syrian Catholic church, in October that left nearly 60 people dead, including two priests. Many Muslim clerics and worshipers offered support to Christians after the siege. The Islamic State of Iraq, an extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, and on Dec. 22 it promised more on its Web site.
The New York Times notes that the attacks on the Christian community in Iraq have increased since the US removed Saddam Hussein:
Even before the coordinated assault, Baghdad had come to resemble a battle zone for Christians, who have come increasingly under attack since the American-led invasion in 2003. Before Christmas, several churches fortified their buildings with blast walls and razor wire, and many canceled or curtailed Christmas observances. The day passed without an attack.
Just to keep things in perspective though, it is not the US attack on Iraq that is the cause of Christian persecution--rather it is the fact that Iraq has changed from a secular to an Islamic state:

One of the more unfortunate consequences of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been the virtual decimation of the already small Christian community in Iraq.

Christians were hardly immune from persecution under Saddam Hussein, but since they constituted less than 3 percent of the population and were not a threat to the regime, they were not often a specific target, as were Shia Muslims and Kurds.

Since the 2003 invasion, however, things have gotten worse - not necessarily because of specific government policies (the current constitution offers protection on paper to religious and ethnic minorities) but because of the dynamics of post-invasion Iraq.

Saddam was nominally a secular ruler, though he invoked Allah whenever he ran into trouble or opposition. Iraq now recognizes Islam as the official state religion, and no law can be passed that contradicts its basic tenets.
The New York Times writes that the Christian exodus from Iraq has begun:
Since October, at least 1,000 Christian families have left Iraq for the relative safety of semiautonomous Kurdistan in the north, and others have sought refuge in Syria, Turkey and Jordan, according to the United Nations. By most estimates, more than half of Iraq’s Christians have left the country since 2003. Though the exact size of the Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of as many as 1.4 million before the American-led invasion.
Just as the US is blamed for the actions of the Islamists in Iraq, Israel is blamed for the pressure the Palestinian government applies to force Christians out of Bethlehem
The pilgrims will be there as midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity is again broadcast live around the world this Christmas Eve -- but the town of Bethlehem is fast losing its last few year-round Christian residents.

Christians are fleeing the town of Christ's birth, and the much-reported hardship that Israel inflicts on residents of the West Bank town has little to do with it. It's the same reality across the Arab world: rising Islamism pushes non-Muslims away.

Islamists frown on real-estate ownership by non-Muslims -- Christian, Jew or anything else. And though the secular Palestinian Authority still controls the West Bank, the clout of groups like Hamas is growing: Even in Bethlehem, where followers of history's most famous baby once thrived, Christians are ceding the land.

Yes, ever since the PA took control of the West Bank in the early '90s, its leaders have taken care to show the world an idealized picture of Muslim-Christian solidarity. But it's a facade -- a way to score anti-Israeli political points.

That tradition continues: Monday, the Palestinian news agency Maan reported on Palestinian Christians "trapped" in Gaza as Israel refuses to let them travel to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas with their brethren.

In fact, the Israelis decline to let people travel from Hamas-controlled Gaza for the simple reason that Hamas is still sponsoring suicide-bomb and other attacks on its civilians. (It also threatens the secularists of Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank.) Gaza residents can't go to Egypt, either (Cairo's even building a wall to keep them out), because Hamas and its parent, the Muslim Brotherhood, threaten the regime.

Back to the exodus: Fifty years ago, Christians made up 70 percent of Bethlehem's population; today, about 15 percent.

Indeed, the Christian population of the entire West Bank -- mostly Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic, with Copts, Russian Orthodox, Armenians and others -- is dwindling.
But, again, the story's the same in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere in the Mideast. Practically the only place in the region where the Christian population is growing is in Israel.
It is long past due to stop blaming the West and instead to highlight the Islamic treatment of Christians in the Middle East.

More at Memeorandum

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