The future of Christians in the Middle East
In July 2017, the Iraqi military and Shiite militias marched against ISIS in the Old City of Mosul. The air was filled with concrete dust, the stench of a rotten human body, the stench of feces, and the heat punished 110 Fahrenheit. There were corpses in some places, ISIS և civilians, soldiers of the caliphate և hostages. I was standing in the ruins of al-Nuri Mosque, where three years ago the caliphate was proclaimed by the self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As the medics sought the wounded soldier, who repeatedly sighed in agony that I had hoped would soothe, I vividly remember how I wished at that moment that his cries could be heard thousands of miles away. Less than four years later, Pope Francis visited the Old City of Mosul, much of which remains in ruins. The devastation is innumerable, millions of people are suffering from injuries that will last for generations. But Pope Francis was present and offered a message of hope. He called himself a “repentant pilgrim” and apologized to those who brought war to Iraq. It is reasonable to conclude from his statements that he believes that the United States is to blame. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, now with well-known diplomatic intervention, sent Cardinal Pio Laghi to the White House in 2003, hoping to prevent a US invasion. Of course, that mission failed, but Pio Laghi’s warning was prophetic. Iraq մեծ much of the region has been plunged into war: chaos, with unpredictable and unpredictable consequences. America still has to find a way out. After the 2003 invasion, the United States was not particularly interested in the plight of Christians. Since the first Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein’s regime has been suspicious of Christians, mainly sympathetic to Christian Americans. The United States wanted to maintain impartiality towards the Christians of Iraq, but it happened out of relentless indifference; in any case, it did little good to Christians or other target minorities. Since 2003, Christians have been targeted by both sides in the uprising, which erupted in the middle of the Sunni-Shiite civil war initiated by Abu Musab al-Qarqawi months after the overthrow of Sudan. From 2003 to 2014, the number of Christians in Iraq decreased by almost one million, reaching about 450,000 in 2014, most of them in northern Iraq. When Mosul fell, Christian homes were marked with an Arabic N for Nasara (a descendant of Nazareth or Jesus). After Mosul, ISIS captured most of the plain of Nineveh. The rest of the Christians fled to Iraqi Kurdistan or simply left Iraq altogether. The Christians of Syria were in a much better position when the war broke out in 2010. The number of Syrian Christians before the civil war was more than one million, about 10 percent of the population. There are so many today. Most of them fled, although many of them also died. When US-backed insurgents overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, it became, as in Syria, a haven for al Qaeda’s ISIS affiliates. In February 2015, when 21 Coptic Christian migrant workers dressed in orange overalls went to the Mediterranean coast and were beheaded, few Americans noticed the connection to US prisons at Guantanamo Bay. This meaning was clear to the viewers in the region. Middle Eastern Christians with ties to America must be eradicated. In Iraqi churches, ISIS wrote the term “Crusaders” on the wall, which was still a link between the local Christians and the “West.” The United States was simply indifferent to all this. I am convinced that military intervention in the Middle East over the past two decades has been catastrophic not only for Christians and other minorities in the region but for millions of others. But is the United States all to blame? Of course, it is to blame for the offensive war, but many others have exacerbated the situation in Iraq. Saddam’s Ba’athist government carried out the chemical weapons of terrorism that Pope Francis condemned in an encyclopedic letter to Fratelli Tut last year that the UN, which Francis praised, was designed to prevent. Then came Syria and Iran, which were willing to supply arms for years of insurgency in Iraq. During this time, Iran began a significant illegal stockpile of missiles in Lebanon, in violation of UN Resolutions 1701-1559. Iran, through Hezbollah, has made the Lebanese-Israeli border the least stable in the region, possibly the next big place. war in the Middle East. Lebanon, once described by Pope John Paul II as a “message” that religious pluralism is possible, is in a political and economic crisis that has brought the country to the brink of collapse. Lebanon is the only country in the Arab world where Christians play an important role in public culture. It is in many ways the most western country, largely due to its Christian influence by advanced regional standards. Perhaps a third of Lebanon is Christian, mostly Maronite Catholics, but their numbers are dwindling, especially in the face of the economic crisis and the threat of war. Patriarch Cardinal Boutros-Rai recently spoke out against both Lebanon’s corrupt elite and, in some nuances, Iran’s violation of Lebanese neutrality. “There are no two states in one country,” Maronite Cardinal Ray told an outdoor audience in February. “There are no two armies in one state.” It was a clear reference to Iran և “Hezbollah”, to which many present chanted. “Iran, get out.” I hope these cries are heard in Rome, as the war between Israel and Hezbollah will leave Lebanon in the rubble of Mosul. Perhaps it would be a perfectly sound diplomatic strategy for the Vatican to put daylight on its “United States” in favor of Middle Eastern or European or Asian governments. This was obviously the approach of the Vatican during the Trump administration. But it must be said that the Trump administration has not started a new war, that Trump himself has tried to conclude some of them. (Trump was even able to cite the theory of involuntary, just war in order to respond proportionately to a limited US military strike on Iran.) Undoubtedly, many Vatican diplomats considered diplomatic relations with the United States more tasteless than relations with Iran. But only strong diplomatic relations with Iran will do little to help Christians survive in the Middle East. Now is the time to look at what the Vatican has to offer to help Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. Just blaming America for the diseases in Iraq and the Middle East is not a plan. Pope Francis և The Vatican has little regard for the conservative taste of Catholicism in many Americans. In fairness, many of these Americans were staunch supporters of the Iraq war, even though few had foreign or military experience, and in retrospect they were simply too deep. (Some of these well-known Catholics have misled many Americans, crushed dissent among those opposed to the Iraq war. They should have apologized and remained silent, but it turns out that there are second steps in American public life.) These Catholics may have forgotten Iraq in public and moved on to other disputes with the progressive pope. But he has not forgotten the Iraq war, in this sense, he is continuing with his predecessors. (Pope Benedict expressed serious concerns about Iraq և his Christian community during his first meeting with President Bush in 2007.) The question of the future of Christians in the Middle East has been raised by popes and statesmen over the past thousand years. The Council of Clermont launched the First Crusade in response to the Byzantine emperor’s request for military assistance against the expanding Turks. Four centuries later, the Council of Florence sought to reunite the Greek-Latin, Orthodox, Catholic, and Christian worlds to save Byzantium, which is now surrounded by Turks. The European powers tried in various ways to protect the other Christian minorities in the Middle East against the unchanging Turks, who managed to kill or expel almost all of their Christians. (Probably the most remarkable success story was Armenia, which turned the genocide back to the image of the old state as a modern state to ensure their survival). There is no reason to believe that the papal power, whose influence has diminished significantly over the centuries, or America, tired of two decades of bloodshed in the Middle East, will offer a diplomatic solution that will preserve Christianity in the region. In the near future, there are five important areas that will determine the future of Christianity in the Middle East. First, Lebanon. As long as there is no full diplomatic effort to save Lebanon from its political leadership, from Iran, which exploits that corrupt leadership, from Hezbollah, Lebanon will fall into anarchy. Second, Egypt. Coppins are the largest Christian presence in the Middle East, but they are also targets of blatant discrimination and often violence. Until Egyptian Christians receive equal citizenship, their numbers are likely to decline. Third, Armenia. Modern Armenia was created by Ottoman Turkey after the 1915 genocide. It is a living reminder that the formation of a political community is often the only way in which certain peoples can survive. Fourth, the Christians of the Arabian Gulf. Millions of migrant domestic workers live in the Arabian Gulf, although many do not have recognized rights, including the right to worship. Fifth, the Christians of the Shiite crescent. There are more than one million Christians in Iran, Iraq and Syria, although their numbers are declining. It may be that Pope Francis meant these Christians when he made his historic visit to Najaf to meet with Ayatollah Sistani. It requires more skill in predicting an impending catastrophe than preventing a catastrophe. Time will tell whether the Francisco or Biden administrations have any vision for Iraq’s minorities, as well as for Christians in the region and other minorities. Some local political experts, such as Oshua Leukovitz, Youssef Kalia, a Syrian-American Christian at the United States Institute of Peace, have recently proposed decentralization policies that have long been obsolete in Iraq and can save Christian remnants. presence there. Such a model can be replicated elsewhere in the Middle East, where over-concentration increases inefficiency and corruption and reduces social trust. Resolving these issues will take time, which most diplomats, although they will never say, will probably intend to spend elsewhere. American-led bombing of Nazi-occupied Belgrade during World War II killed so many civilians that Serbs said: “God save us from American aid.” This Serbian proverb is appropriate for the US involvement in the Middle East, which, according to many, was done with the best of intentions. But the aspirations behind that intervention are not mitigated by prudence. For their part, Christians in the Middle East have been discriminated against by their governments, persecuted by their neighbors, ignored by the Americans, massacred on the shores of the Mediterranean, desecrated in Mesopotamia – while they are still there. Some believe that the Catholic president, the progressive pope, can work together to achieve some great vision: the liberal version of the Ronald Reagan-John Paul II bloc. It is difficult to be skeptical of the fruit of such a partnership, of course, to the extent of the partnership that overthrew Soviet communism. And what was the purpose? Both do not take a particularly hard line on human rights abuses in China, which is a much stronger challenge for the Western world order. Maybe the president and the pope will have a more modest agenda. After Francis’s visit to Iraq, Christians in the Middle East hope to be on that agenda.