Christians have not had a good time in the modern Middle East. Sadly, that doesn’t seem likely to change as Butcher Assad’s hold on Syria slowly slips. While Via Meadia is no fan of Iran-enabling tyrants who kill thousands of their own people, there are good reasons to be concerned about the plight of minorities in region during this era of upheaval. Facing no other alternative, Christians in Syria have quietly thrown their support behind President Assad. A recent article in Der Spiegel highlights their dilemma:
Many of Syria’s 2.5 million Christians are supporting President Bashar Assad amidst ongoing protests in the country. They prefer a brutal dictator who guarantees the rights of religious minorities to the uncertain future that Assad’s departure would bring. The president is exploiting their fears of Islamists for his own ends.
Syria contains one of the oldest Christian communities in the world courtesy of the ministry of St. Paul. Aside from recent converts stemming from the days of French colonialism, Syrian Christians, like their cousins found in Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon, are a remarkable continuous link to the region’s deep and rich past. These Christians have preserved nearly extinct languages such as Aramaic — believed to be the language Jesus spoke in daily life — and the ancient Egyptian language that dates back to the days of the Pharaohs.The Christian plight in the Middle East is not unprecedented. Ancient Jewish communities throughout the region have been nearly wiped out due to expulsions related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. (In Libya recently, an exiled Libyan Jew returning to rebuild a ruined synagogue was forced to leave by threats from an angry crowd, although he had permission from both the government and a local Islamic cleric to begin the restoration.) Christians, like the Jews, are an easy target for Muslim societies under pressure. In some though by no means in all countries, Christians tend to be wealthier and better educated than their Muslim counterparts. Middle Eastern Christians are also often linked by Muslims to their cousins in the West and as a result are blamed for the history of Western imperialism in the region — or thought to be conniving with the west or with Israel.Nevertheless, over the past 50 years, Middle Eastern Christians under secular Arab dictatorships have been able to live in relative peace. A lot of this is courtesy of the fact that these Arab dictators such as the late Saddam Hussein, Hafez Assad or Hosni Mubarak, subscribed to the now discredited Arab Nationalism that dominated Middle Eastern discourse throughout the 20th century. Arab Nationalism was a secular movement that enabled Christians to join with Muslims under the banner of pan-Arabism. But today the last rotten remnants of the Arab Nationalist past are being toppled as part of the Arab Spring.As Via Meadia has reported in Iraq, the toppling of a brutal Arab dictator led directly to a rise in extremist violence directed against Christians. Today Christians in Egypt are fearful of the recent elections that may usher in governing coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist Salafi groups. Like Egypt, Syria has its own Muslim Brotherhood that the Assad family has brutally repressed. If or better yet when, President Bashar Assad is toppled, Syrian Christians may also face the uncertain future of the Arab Spring. Their backing, however reluctant, for Assad is something their angry Sunni neighbors may find it hard to forget.