One of the oldest Christian communities has been destroyed as the Sunni Caliphate spreads

It’s easy to see where the Christians have made political mistakes in the Middle East

Share

For three years, the Arab revolutions cast “Palestine” and Palestinians to the fringe of memory in the Middle East. And now the new bloodbath in Gaza has pushed to the corner of our consciousness the continuing tragedy of the Christian exodus.

As the Christians of Mosul fled their cruel, new “Sunni Caliphate”, photographs of the city’s Syriac-Catholic church, fire blazing from its windows, only made inside pages in the Middle East press.

That two of the world’s most-hated, born-again Christians – George W Bush is one and the other, a British citizen, is unmentionable – should have destroyed one of the oldest Christian communities in the lands of Christ, remains a most brutally ironic testament to their folly.

Both, of course, would no more acknowledge this today than the Christians of the Middle East can ignore it.

And inevitably, the Christians in the great cities lying between the Tigris and the Mediterranean are asking why no Muslims are condemning their tragedy.

“What are the moderate Muslims saying?” the Lebanese Catholic Maronite Patriarch, Bechara Rai, asked acidly last week. “We do not hear the voices of those who denounce this.”

Indeed not. The Caliphate’s threat to the Christians – convert, be taxed or die – contradict, in the words of the Chaldean Patriarch, Archbishop Louis Sako,  “1,400 years of history and of the life of the Muslim world and of coexistence between different religions and different peoples”. Archbishop Sako spoke, too, this week of how Iraq itself had become a “humanitarian, cultural and historical catastrophe”. But he added that Christians in the region must remember that the Koran demands respect for minorities and that the Christian people must also remain respectful to Muslims and show “patience and endurance”. Which, I would have thought, might be turning the other saintly cheek a bit too far.

READ MORE: End 'very near' for Christianity in Iraq, says Bishop
Isis orders Mosul shop keepers to cover mannequins
Editorial: Genocidal intentions of Isis take on horrible clarity

But of course, the new Caliph of Mosul has applied restrictions to all Shia Muslims as well as the Yezidis, the Sabeans and the Turkomens. And there have been street demonstrations in Beirut just last week – jointly, by Muslims and Christians – to both condemn the treatment of the Christians of Mosul and the Palestinians of Gaza.

Religions may be different, was the message, but both the Christians and Muslims of the Middle East are Arabs.

Now of course, it’s not difficult to see where the Christians have made political mistakes in the Middle East. Many Copts in Egypt supported the regime of President Hosni Mubarak when it was clear that the revolution would overwhelm him. And the Copts were also rather too quick to line up alongside Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when Egypt’s Field Marshal/President decided to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood.

Far too many of Lebanon’s Christian families aligned themselves with the Crusaders in the 11th century and far too many Christians fought each other as well as their Muslim, Druze and Palestinian brothers in the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. In Syria today, the Christians accept the Assad regime – as surely they must when they can see the Caliphate spreading its laws through the Syrian city of Raqaa. Even the dead of the 1915 Armenian genocide (Christians too, remember) have not been spared; the church housing their bones in Deir el-Zour has been damaged. And I recall seeing with my own eyes the burned bibles and knife-ripped paintings in the church at Yabroud, just north of Damascus. I took some samples and showed them to lecture audiences in America and Europe – and in the Arab Gulf. I did not do so to suggest that Bashar al-Assad was a highly-enlightened man – but to show them what America’s great ally, Saudi Arabia, is doing.

For the Saudis lie behind this vast new force of the Caliphate, whose Islamist rulers have brought some of their Iraqi military assets – courtesy of George W again – to Syria and are now giving the Syrian army a tougher fight. Before the Caliphate spread to Mosul, the Syrian army was winning, or at least not losing. Now their soldiers are being executed, just like the Iraqi Shia army units captured near Mosul. And, of course, we continue to buttress this savagery in Syria while we loudly condemn the very same groups which are now ruling Mosul and threatening “democratic” Iraq. Saudi Arabia continues to fund the Wahabis among the Sunni forces while we continue to protect the Saudis, to shield them from all criticism, just as we did when 15 of the 9/11 hijackers turned out to be Saudis, just as we did when they funded the Taliban.

Even in north-eastern Lebanon now, there are hidden Isis dangers. The Lebanese army, the only institution in the state which really works, has stationed men and equipment around the town of Ersal where many of the rebels against Assad have taken shelter. The Syrian army, when it stormed into Yabroud this year, effectively cut them off from Syrian territory. But if the Syrian military lose ground in the mountains south of Homs, then Isis forces might try to link up with Ersal and Isis would then be able to boast that its early title – The Islamist Army of Iraq and the Levant – had come true.

Of course, we can comfort ourselves that the new Caliphate-regime is too crackpot to survive. Probably. But didn’t some people say exactly that when Ayatollah Khomeini flew back to Tehran, and when our favourite dictators took over the Middle East? Didn’t we used to call Gaddafi a crackpot? And didn’t he rule for quite a long time? The Christians of the Middle East don’t, therefore, take much comfort in this sort of jolly assumption. For if Isis has its rump north of Baghdad and its body across Syria, what happens when, even from the Lebanese border, its teeth can be heard snapping just a few miles from  the Mediterranean?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker