The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has criticized the appalling veil of silence that hangs over the increasing persecution and flight of historic Christian communities in the Middle East in the face of assault, violence, threat and intimidation by radical Muslims. The ZOA is drawing attention to this neglected problem because it strongly believes that justice calls for action to pressure Middle Eastern governments to desist from the persecution of Christians and other minorities and that increased public awareness will assist the cause of stronger action by governments, including the U.S.
Recent developments affecting Christians in the Middle East:
- Gaza: In the Hamas-run territory, the small Christian minority has been subject to violence of all types – killing, kidnapping, forced conversions and destruction of church property. Between 2007, when Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, and 2012, Gaza’s small Christian population shrunk from 3,500 to 1,500. Forced conversions of Christian children have occurred increasingly and Hamas has spoken of reintroducing the jizya, the discriminatory tax imposed on Jews and Christians by Muslim rulers in past centuries.
- Iraq: In the last decade, Iraq’s Christian population had shrunk from 1.4 million to around 200,000. Since 2003, 70 churches have been attacked and 900 Christians killed by beheading, crucifixion and other means.
- Egypt: Since the departure of Hosni Mubarak and the ascendency of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011, 100,000 of Egypt’s 5-6 million Coptic Christians have fled the country. Attacks on churches have increased; Christian women and girls raped in increasing numbers and the incidence of forced conversion of Christians to Islam have dramatically increased. In recent days, dozens of Muslim Brotherhood supporters attacked an evangelical church in Reeda, in Upper Egypt, destroying much of the building including its facade, and opened fire on Christians in the vicinity who were almost entirely undefended by the local security forces.
- Syria: Before the Arab Spring uprisings, the city of Homs had around 80,000 Christians. In October of 2012, jihadists murdered the city’s last Christian. Just last month, Syrian rebels killed Catholic priest Francois Murad as he tried to protect a group of nuns. The ongoing violence has caused an estimated 300,000 Christian Syrians to flee the nation in the past two years.
- Lebanon: Once the only Christian majority state in the Middle East which, at the time of the 1932 census had a 50% Christian population, Lebanon has seen its Christian majority decline into a minority of what today is around 34%, following the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s and the ascendency of the Shia Hizballah as a power broker in the country.
- Libya: Almost all of Libya’s formerly 100,000-strong Christian community have fled since the 2011 revolution that brought Islamist forces to power.
- Iran: The country’s Assyrian Christians, which numbered about 100,000 in the 1970s before the Iranian revolution brought the Ayatollahs to power, has dropped to 15,000 today.
- Pakistan: In March 2011, the only Christian minister in the Pakistani government, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minority Affairs Minister, was assassinated after he condemned a law that inflicts the death penalty on anyone who insults Islam. In the past decade, Christians have been shot, their churches attacked and their communities subject to mob violence. In March 2013, Muslims attacked a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, where more than 100 houses were burned after a Christian was alleged to have made remarks deemed blasphemous to Islam.
- Mali: Over 200,000 Christians have fled Mali since the Islamist coup of 2012. Despite a recent respite due to intervention of foreign forces, Christians in the northern part of the country remain vulnerable to Islamist assault.
ZOA National Chairman of the Board Dr. Michael Goldblatt said, “The ZOA shares the anguish and concern shared by many, but not nearly enough, people at the deteriorating predicament, suffering and danger engulfing the Christians of the Middle East and beyond.
“The U.S. should be pressuring where possible the governments concerned to afford better protection to Christians and other minorities. This we have not been doing consistently. To the contrary, in its apparent anxiety to sever any perceived link between Islam and the violence committed by some Muslims in its name, the Obama Administration rarely if ever speaks of radical Islam or of the crimes committed by radical Islamists as having anything to do with Islam. One of the corollaries of this is that we tend to ignore the pronounced pattern of Islamist violence directed at Christian communities in Muslim majority countries.
“This silence should end now. We call upon the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress to condemn the war waged by radical Muslims against the Christian communities of the Middle East and to start pressuring the relevant governments to protect its Christian citizens, reverse legal disabilities and the discrimination they face and to aggressively prosecute those groups and individuals that carry out assaults.”