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A Dire Warning
The Future of Christians in the Middle East

Our very own WRM has a piece up in the Wall Street Journal today discussing the lessons that history teaches us about the case of the modern Middle East’s persecuted Christians.

The story of the last 200 or so years of the history of the Middle East as well as Eastern and Central Europe can be characterized as a story about the breakdown of large, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional empires, as peoples struggle to form smaller, more demographically homogeneous nation-states; there are more than 40 countries where four empires once stood—Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire.

Nation-states have had positive qualities, but the process by which they were birthed has been exceedingly bloody. Watching the trends from the Greek Wars of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s to the Bulgarian Horrors of the 1870s to World War I, the breakup of these multi-factional states is marked by massacres, ethnic cleansings, massacres, and genocides on all fronts.

Unfortunately, that holds true in our own time: the violent hotspots making headlines in 2015 are in the ruins of the Soviet Empire and in the chaotic breakdown of the multi-ethnic states of Iraq and Syria. With ISIS and Islamist fanaticism in the region writ large ascendant, the warning is dire:

The process of murder and “religious cleansing” may well continue until, for all practical purposes, the Christians of these countries simply disappear. Other Christian populations in the Middle East have been almost entirely wiped out or displaced. In 1900, most of Constantinople’s residents were Christian; today, of Istanbul’s population of some 14.4 million people, fewer than 150,000 identify with any faith other than Islam.

The years ahead may bring a similar fate to other Christian communities, consumed by the fires of fanaticism. But the risk is not just regional: The loss of a meaningful Christian presence in the Middle East could further polarize relations between Christians and Muslims around the world—and bring us a step closer to the kind of “clash of civilizations” that no sensible person wishes to see.

Will the people thinking about how to keep Middle Eastern Christians safe take these lessons into account, or will we all make horrified but useless gestures as we watch the these communities be destroyed, in merely the latest episode of the greatest tragedy in human history? It’s not a fun question, but it’s one we are faced with. We encourage you to read the whole thing, in which WRM considers by what strategies these Christians are most likely to survive.

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  • George Von Herman

    Menachem Begin couldn’t understand why noone cared for the Lebanese christians in the civil war and nothing has changed.

  • Dan Greene

    “Will the people thinking about how to keep Middle Eastern Christians safe take these lessons into account…”

    I’m not sure who those people actually are, but what “they” should have been thinking about was the inadvisability of overthrowing Saddam and trying to overthrow Assad. Absent those to interventions, Christians in the Middle East would be a lot better off today.

    • JR

      Agree completely. The Iraq misadventure was a huge disaster, and so was the support of the so-called Arab Spring, which led Syrian rebels to believe that Assad will go quietly. Now we have large scale ethnic cleansing and a potential for nuclear arms race. what a mess….

    • Gene

      Dan Greene IV, if this site lasts another two or three generations, will regularly visit with his own comments about the latest atrocities in the ME — land of seventy-times-seven atrocities — being the clear result of the Iraq War.

      • Dan Greene

        And your explanation is?

    • FriendlyGoat

      I put this comment in another place today and am copying it here as my explanation for what we may need to think about going forward:

      Presidential candidates, left or right, wanting to win over Americans, might say:

      “You know what? George W. Bush thought that if we cleaned out terrorists in Afghanistan and toppled some dictators that the citizens in those places would vote in rational secular democracies and improve their lives and improve the stability of the whole region. It seemed like a noble idea, and you know what? President Obama hoped for the same thing.

      NOW we know that the voters of Muslim-majority countries not only have not—–but very possibly CANNOT—— adapt their nations to secularism and human rights over radical Islam. Our future foreign policy and expenditures therefore will not be predicated on such hopes. We are not declaring war on Islam, but we are positively fed up with Islam declaring war on us and all of our ideals. When any part of it hits western interests, we will respond with appropriate destruction of Islamic interests. Reining in the radicals who do ridiculous things in the name of “The Prophet” is their job, not ours. Our job is maintaining western freedom in western places and we shall not fail to do so. That’s about it.”

  • FriendlyGoat

    There is not a promising future in 1.5 billion Muslims being taught to be against 2.2 billion Christians and possibly also against the remainder of the world’s infidels who are neither Muslim or Christian. The answer, short of endless slaughter both ways, is debunking Islam and getting massive numbers of its adherents to be “able” to quit—-and then to quit. This is more a messaging war than a bomb war. It’s not easy, but at some point we have to realize that the world problem with this is literally “all in our heads”. Most of us in the west know that the sayings of Mohammad don’t REALLY supersede everything else in human thought. Our Muslim counterparts need some new thoughts and, here in the 21st century, even with unprecedented communication tools, we’re going the wrong direction.

  • wigwag

    The must read article on the subject that Professor Mead addresses in his essay is entitled “Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism;” it’s by Catholic University professor Jerry Z. Muller and it appeared in the March/April 2008 issue of “Foreign Affairs.” It is probably the single smartest essay to appear in that journal in the last quarter century. Give yourself a treat and sit down and read it; you will be glad you did.

    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/europe/2008-03-02/us-and-them

    What quickly becomes obvious upon reading Muller’s piece is that the ethnic cleansing currently afflicting Christians in the Middle East is no historical anamoly; in fact, it’s the historical rule not the historical exception. Since the collapse of the multiethnic empires at the end of the Great War, the world has been busy sorting itself into relatively homogenous religious, linguistic and ethnonationalistic groups. Ironically, cosmopolitan leftists in Europe love to congratulate themselves for achieving a European post national consciousness but what they fail to realize is that to the extent this achievement is real rather than imagined, it only became possible after Europe spent 150 dreadful years ethnically cleansing the entire continent so that it’s individual nation states became remarkably homogeneous. Only in those places where this project is incomplete like the Balkans does violence still reign. The only other non-homogenous states in Europe are Belgium (where political conflict is red hot) and Switzerland.

    In his article, Muller provides the grim details all of which are remarkably reminiscent of what is happening to Christians in the Middle East. To wit,

    “During the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, almost half a million people left their traditional homelands, either voluntarily or by force. Muslims left regions under the control of Bulgarians, Greeks, and Serbs; Bulgarians abandoned Greek-controlled areas of Macedonia; Greeks fled from regions of Macedonia ceded to Bulgaria and Serbia…

    In 1919, the Greek government invaded the area that would become Turkey, seeking to carve out a “greater Greece” stretching all the way to Constantinople. Meeting with initial success, the Greek forces looted and burned villages in an effort to drive out the region’s ethnic Turks. But Turkish forces eventually regrouped and pushed the Greek army back, engaging in their own ethnic cleansing against local Greeks along the way. Then the process of population transfers was formalized in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne: all ethnic Greeks were to go to Greece, all Greek Muslims to Turkey. In the end, Turkey expelled almost 1.5 million people, and Greece expelled almost 400,000…

    The political settlement in central Europe after World War I had been achieved primarily by moving borders to align them with populations. After World War II, it was the populations that moved instead. Millions of people were expelled from their homes and countries, with at least the tacit support of the victorious Allies

    Between 1944 and 1945, five million ethnic Germans from the eastern parts of the German Reich fled westward to escape the conquering Red Army, which was energetically raping and massacring its way to Berlin. Then, between 1945 and 1947, the new postliberation regimes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Yugoslavia expelled another seven million Germans in response to their collaboration with the Nazis. Together, these measures constituted the largest forced population movement in European history, with hundreds of thousands of people dying along the way…

    The handful of Jews who survived the war and returned to their homes in eastern Europe met with so much anti-Semitism that most chose to leave for good. About 220,000 of them made their way into the American-occupied zone of Germany, from which most eventually went to Israel or the United States. Jews thus essentially vanished from central and eastern Europe, which had been the center of Jewish life since the sixteenth century…

    The effects of ethnonationalism, of course, have hardly been confined to Europe. For much of the developing world, decolonization has meant ethnic disaggregation through the exchange or expulsion of local minorities. The end of the British Raj in 1947 brought about the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, along with an orgy of violence that took hundreds of thousands of lives. Fifteen million people became refugees, including Muslims who went to Pakistan and Hindus who went to India. Then, in 1971, Pakistan itself, originally unified on the basis of religion, dissolved into Urdu-speaking Pakistan and Bengali-speaking Bangladesh.”

    Muller is right that the victorious World War II allies took ethnic cleansing to a new height; no one was a bigger advocate for ethnic cleansing than Winston Churchill. As Churchill put it in a speech to the British parliament in December 1944, “Expulsion is the method which, so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble. . . . A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed at the prospect of the disentanglement of population, nor am I alarmed by these large transferences.”.

    So for better or worse, maybe we should ask ourselves how Churchill would have handled the extermination of the Christian presence in the Middle East. My guess is that he would have carved out a Christian a State in the region. Perhaps the “Palestinians” might be expelled from Gaza into Egypt from where most of their forebears came less than a century ago to make way for a Christian state in Gaza. Despite their significant differences, perhaps the Copts, Maronites and other Christian Arabs could live together amicably there. If Gaza isn’t geographically large enough, Sunni Palestinians could be expelled from the West Bank and forced to resettle a mere 50 miles away in Jordan. They could be replaced by Christian Arabs who have been so abused by their Muslim neighbors.

    Surely this sounds appalling to self righteous Westerners oblivious to the fact that much of the modern world they enjoy today only became possible after their parents and grandparents generation engaged in precisely the same kind of ethnic sorting that could be tried here. In any case, these population transferences would be easier and more peaceful than the millions upon millions of Syrian and Iraqi citizens who are now refugees against their will and will most likely never return to their ancestral homes.

    The victorious allies decided to try and turn lemons into lemonade; maybe the same approach could save the Christians of the Middle East.

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