The silence of our friends – the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East

The remains of the Amir Tadros Coptic Church in Minya, southern Egypt. (VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG/AFP/Getty Images)

The remains of the Amir Tadros Coptic Church in Minya, southern Egypt. (VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG/AFP/Getty Images)

The last month and a half has seen perhaps the worst anti-Christian violence in Egypt in seven centuries, with dozens of churches torched. Yet the western media has mainly focussed on army assaults on the Muslim Brotherhood, and no major political figure has said anything about the sectarian attacks.

Last week at the National Liberal Club there was a discussion asking why the American and British press have ignored or under-reported this persecution, and (in some people’s minds) given a distorted narrative of what is happening.

Among the four speakers was the frighteningly impressive Betsy Hiel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, who has spent years in Egypt and covered Iraq and Afghanistan. There were lots of stories of Muslims protecting Christian neighbours, but there were also incidents with frightening echoes; Hiel described a man riding on his bike past a burned down church and laughing, which brought to my mind the scene in Schindler’s List when local Poles make throat-slitting gestures to Jews en route to Auschwitz.

Some of this has been reported, but the focus has been on the violence committed against the Brotherhood. Judging by the accounts given by one of the other speakers, Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom, the American press is even more blind, and their government not much better; when Mubarak was overthrown one US agency assessed the Muslim Brotherhood as being ‘essentially secular’.

The night ended with historian Tom Holland declaring sadly that we are now seeing the extinction of Christianity and other minority faiths in the Middle East. As he pointed out, it’s the culmination of the long process that began in the Balkans in the late 19th century, reached its horrific European climax in 1939-1945, and continued with the Greeks of Alexandria, the Mizrahi Jews and most recently the Chaldo-Assyrian Christians of Iraq. The Copts may have the numbers to hold on, Holland said, and the Jews of Israel, but can anyone else?

Without a state (and army) of their own, minorities are merely leaseholders. The question is whether we can do anything to prevent extinction, and whether British foreign policy can be directed towards helping Christian interests rather than, as currently seems to be the case, the Saudis.

The saddest audience question was from a young man who I’m guessing was Egyptian-British. He asked: ‘Where was world Christianity when this happened?’

Nowhere. Watching X-Factor. Debating intersectionality. Or just too frightened of controversy to raise Muslim-on-Christian violence.

Bishop Angaelos, leader of the UK Copts, also expressed disappointment at the response from other religious leaders, saying that if Christians burned down 10 synagogues or mosques, let alone 50, they’d be going over to show their sympathy and shame.

The most outspoken British religious leader has been Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and the debate brought to mind something Rabbi Sacks recently said about Middle Eastern Christians, comparing their fate with those of the Jews in Europe, and quoting Martin Luther King: ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’


21 thoughts on “The silence of our friends – the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East

  1. Is it because we have a tradition of martyrdom that we do nothing?

    I ask that, because apart from telling Christian friends about it, and talking about it here, and praying, I am doing nothing. And it bothers me.

    If Christians are fleeing those countries I’d welcome them in Australia.

  2. There is definitely part of me (the carnal side) that thinks the solution is easy. Get the Christians out of there into Australia and decent countries and then go an unleash hell. Bomb them back into the stone age.

    Ironically, I’ve heard so many non-religious average Joe guys suggest that.

    But that wouldn’t be right. Christians need to be protected and Muslim terrorists somehow convinced to stop murdering people, or better still become Christians.

    So, any ideas?

  3. The irony in many of these countries is that the Christians always had problems but they were safer when a dictator was in power.

  4. Phil Pringle’s more concerned with misrepresenting climate change scientists than christians in egypt.

    kong hee might send his wife over if he can scam a couple more million. The houstons are too busy making money than worrying about christians who cant afford their albums though they are considering hillsong cairo.

  5. q, there were more orthodox christians slaughtered last century than the holocaust. Estimates are from 20 million and not much was ever said.

  6. Your comments are regrettable, Bones. Perhaps you can tone them down somewhat, especially on regard to C3 which is not the subject for discussion. We do have a church plant in Cairo, and we support works in the Middle East, but such is the volatility of the region they are not heavily publicised.

    You’d actually be amazed at the faith of Christians in the region and how they are remaining courageous despite the persecution. We recently had a meeting with the Bishop of Baghdad who is seeing incredible growth in his church despite the numbers who have been martyred.

    I do not know of Hillsong’s plans, but being part of AOG you would think they, through the general movement, had major missions works in the pipeline. I know that their missions director was in Nairobi when the bombings took place this week.

    You really need to be more circumspect with your claims, Bones. I for one do not understand why you are being so aggressive.

  7. We should stand up for Christian minorities, not because they are Christian but because they are minorities under persecution.

    Just like we should stand with other persecuted minorities whether they be Black, Brown, Buddhist, Muslim or members of the Australian Democrats.

    I think we should start at home, and there are lots of persecuted minorities knocking at our door asking for our help. They are called asylum seekers and one of the ways we can stand up for them is to stand up to the bullies who are making political capital from their misfortune.

  8. Thanks to Greg for posting the article. It shows that Christians who are being persecuted should be supported by those who are not. Organisations like the Persecuted Church put out information about what is happening in these places, giving people the opportunity to pray and support persecuted Christians.

    The silence of the media is curious. Perhaps the churches don’t mean as much to them as the violence perpetrated against people.

    One thing we should ask is, who is responsible for the bombing of churches and mosques, and what can the world’s community do about it? It’s one thing to focus on our own soil, but what are we doing to protect threatened minorities in their own homelands?

  9. “We should stand up for Christian minorities, not because they are Christian but because they are minorities under persecution.”

    Do you feel any special relationship with Christians Wazza?

    What do you make of Paul’s attitude to suffering Christians in the book of Acts.

    Do you go to a church? Can you imagine your church being bombed like that?

    Why is it that every time I talk about Christians getting blown up, someone has to talk about someone else. Wazza brings up other minorities, and Bones attacks Hillsong, C3 and goes back into the previous century.

    Do you guys ever think about Christians living right now?

  10. okay, I can’t seem to get Bones to talk about positive solutions for Christians NOW. And Wazza starts talking about asylum seekers.

    Okay, given that Bones wants to talk about history, and Greg wanted to talk about how the Christian West’s treatment of Muslims explains the attacks on a shopping mall, have a read of this.

    Maybe this is part of what Bones was talking about.

    “During 1894-1923 the Ottoman Empire conducted a policy of Genocide of the Christian population living within its extensive territory. The Sultan, Abdul Hamid, first put forth an official governmental policy of genocide against the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1894.

    Systematic massacres took place in 1894-1896 when Abdul savagely killed 300,000 Armenians throughout the provinces. Massacres recurred, and in 1909 government troops killed, in the towns of Adana alone, over 20,000 Christian Armenians.

    When WW1 broke out the The Ottoman Empire was ruled by the “Young Turk” dictatorship which allied itself with Germany. Turkish government decided to eliminate the whole of the Christian population of Greeks, Armenians, Syrians and Nestorians. The government slogan, “Turkey for the Turks”, served to encourage Turkish civilians on a policy of ethnic cleansing.

    The next step of the Armenian Genocide began on 24 April 1915 with the mass arrest, and ultimate murder, of religious, political and intellectual leaders in Constantinople and elsewhere in the empire. Then, in every Armenian community, a carefully planned Genocide unfolded: Arrest of clergy and other prominent persons, disarmament of the population and Armenian soldiers serving in the Ottoman army, segregation and public execution of leaders and able-bodied men, and the deportation to the deserts of the remaining Armenian women, children and elderly. Renowned historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that “the crime was concerted very systematically for there is evidence of identical procedure from over fifty places.”

    The Genocide started from the border districts and seacoasts, and worked inland to the most remote hamlets. Over 1.5 million Armenian Christians, including over 4,000 bishops and priests, were killed in this step of the Genocide.

    The Greek Christians, particularly in the Black Sea area known as Pontus, who had been suffering from Turkish persecutions and murders all the while, saw the Turks turn more fiercely on them as WW1 came to a close. The Allied Powers, at a peace conference in Paris in 1919, rewarded Greece for her support by inviting Prime Minister Venizelos to occupy the city of Smyrna with its rich hinterlands, and they placed the province under Greek control. This action greatly angered the Turks. The Greek occupation was a peaceful one but drew immediate fire from Turkish forces in the outlying areas. When the Greek army farmed out to protect its people, a full-fledged war broke out between Greece and Turkey (the Greco-Turkish war).

    The Treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920 to end WW1 and which provided for an independent Armenia, was never ratified. The treaty’s terms changed not long after the ink dried as England, France and Italy each began secretly bargaining with Mustafa Kemel (Ataturk) in order to gain the right to exploit oil fields in the Mozul (now Iraq). Betrayed by the Allied Powers, the Greek military front, after 40 long months of war, collapsed and retreated as the Turks began again to occupy Asia Minor.

    September 1922 signaled the end of the Greek and Armenian presence in the city of Smyrna. On 9 September 1922, the Turks entered Smyrna; and after systematically murdering the Armenians in their own homes, the forces of Ataturk turned on the Greeks whose numbers had swelled, with the addition of refugees who had fled their villages in Turkey’s interior, to upwards of 400,000 men, women and children.

    The conquering Turks went from house to house, looting, pillaging, raping and murdering the population. ”

    So, your point Bones is that the world didn’t do anything about this…?

    And yet, Greg would include the Anzacs at Gallipoli as evidence of the Christian West hurting those poor Ottomans.

    So, getting back to it. Wazza’s solution is to be nice to minorities (whether Christian or not) in Australia, and Bones thinks part of the solution is to attack Pringle and Houston.

    It’s kind of like the default argument for anything isn’t it.

    Pringle, Houston and Osteen.

    Yes, the Armenian genocide was terrible. So, is there anything that can be done now?

    One thing is publicity I suppose. The evangelical haters here think there is some use in posting articles about Christian scandals and excess. Perhaps to make people aware? So they can pray? so they can be careful?

    If so, I will use as many comments as i can here to bring more awareness about the sufferings of Christians at the hands of Muslim terrorists. So people can be aware, pray, and be careful when travelling to countries with lots of Muslims. And to show what could happen to western countries taken over by Muslims.

    THat’s a start.

  11. Q a hypothetical, if a Christian family from the Middle East managed to flee the persecution, travel to Indonesia and get on a boat to try to reach Australia – do you think it would be justifiable to turn their boat back without assessing their situation? Or, to detain them on Manus Island for several years?

  12. I think Christians fleeing persecution in other countries should be let into the country and welcomed.

    I think Australia is big enough and we should have the brains to also bring in peace-loving Muslims who make the effort to make a new life and forget old grievances. I’m not involved in the process, but I don’t understand why it takes years to process people.

    Having said that, if someone is genuinely escaping and going all the way across the planet in order to stay alive, then you’d think even 2 years on an island with food and accommodation would be something they’d be grateful for.

    Some of our great great grandparents came here and lived in shacks and walked to get water etc etc and were given no money. Go ask about your family history.

    But, and this is where I will differ from you guys.

    I think priority should be given to those who are fleeing Christians. Definitely.
    They will assimilate better, and their kids will have less chance of feeling disenfranchised and getting radicalised when they get older if they are Muslim.

    That’s sounds bad, but can’t be argued with.

    Also, most citizens of AUstralia don’t want immigrants importing their conflicts (between branches of Islam) here.

    And for real terrible statement……

    Given that Muslims around the world feel so badly when their brethren suffer anywhere in the world, then Muslim refugees should be taken in by those countries.

    So, send the Muslim refugees to Saudi Arabia – close to Mecca.

    But, and here begins the lesson kids.

    Ask yourselves why unashamedly Muslim countries with lots of space don’t take in Muslim refugees.?

    Think about that, and research for a few weeks and get back to me.

    We’ve seen whole cities spring up – Dubai etc.

    I would be all for Muslim refugees going to Saudi Arabia and they can all be as Muslim as they like. The Christians can all come here.

    Fine.

    Yeah Wazza, I’m all for Christian refugees coming here. Maybe whole new towns in Western Australia. They could probably even be happy to sing Christmas carols in school.

    As people have pointed out, in the 21st century there are pockets of Christian terrorism probably, but nothing to compare in terms of numbers with Muslim violence.

    So, yes, that would be one of my solutions. Bring the Christians from Syria, Egypt etc here.

    But then make sure we protect them from Australia Muslims….

    FOr my most radical thought? I’d be in favor of bringing all Jews here from Israel too.

    Let the Muslims have Jerusalem and start a new one here in the desert somewhere.

    In 20 years the different sects of Islam will be blowing themselves up, and the Jews would transform the desert and start the IT center of the world.

    Maybe another topic could be “Are Jews by nature clever and successful?”

    I am against violence.

    And yes, I’d rather Muslim on Muslim violence than having Jews and Christians assassinated.

    But what would happen in reality. Muslims aren’t interested in helping Muslims. The big bad Christian west as greg puts it gives incredibly much more to Muslims in times of tsunamis or even in their “plight” in Palestine, than the rich Muslims. Muslims wouldn’T be taken in, but they’d still want to come to places like Australia.

    Ask yourself why, research it and get back to me.

    We have a problem Houston.

  13. Pray for terrorists despite the martyring of Christians, Archbishop of Canterbury says

    He said the Church had raised its concerns with William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and called on other governments to act to protect Christians.

    He added: “As Christians, one of the things is that we pray for justice and particularly the issues around the anger that comes from this kind of killing. But we are also called as Jesus did at the Cross, to pray for those who are doing us harm.”

    http://life.nationalpost.com/2013/09/25/pray-for-terrorists-despite-the-martyring-of-christians-archbishop-of-canterbury-says/

  14. I have a friend who is in Kenya at them moment, just packing to return from a trip volunteering in a children’s school.

    She was a few hours outside of Nairobi, and so was safe. She tells me that the Kenyan people are determined to find out who in their society had been supporting Al Shahaba, as they could not have committed this atrocity without internal Kenyan support.

    I asked her what the people of Nairobi and Kenya were saying and feeling? She told me that most, Muslim and Christian are feeling shocked an horrified by this outrage.

  15. A Statement from the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt about the situation in Egypt

    The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt is following closely the unfortunate incidences occurring in our nation and confirms its strong stance with the Egyptian law enforcement, the armed forces, and all civil Egyptian institutions in confronting violent armed organizations and dark malicious forces, both internal and external. The attacks on our government entities and peaceful churches are terrorizing our citizens both Coptic and Muslim. These actions stand against all religions, morality, and humanity.

    We value the stance of the friendly and loyal countries who understand the nature of these events. We strongly denounce the fallacies broadcasted by the western media and invite them to review the facts objectively regarding these bloody radical organizations and their affiliates instead of legitimizing them with global support and political protection while they attempt to spread devastation and destruction in our dear land. We request that the international and western media adhere to providing a comprehensive account of all events with truth, accuracy, and honesty.

    Our sincere condolences are extended to all the victims and martyrs of duty that gave their lives, and we pray for the recovery of all those injured and afflicted. We persevere in our strong national unity and repulse any attempts to polarize our great nation into a secular conflict. We absolutely reject even partial foreign interference in our internal affairs. As the hand of evil extends to burn, kill and destroy; the Hands of God are nearer to protect, strengthen, and build. We have full faith and confidence in the Divine intervention that will navigate the Egyptian people in this delicate time of our history to a better tomorrow and a brighter future filled with justice, peace, and democracy that the people of the Nile Valley so rightly deserve.

    Long live Egypt, free and proud.

    http://coptic.ca/churches/smsk/2013/08/20/official-statements-from-the-coptic-orthodox-church-in-light-of-recent-events/

  16. Thanks for posting that Bones.

    “But we are also called as Jesus did at the Cross, to pray for those who are doing us harm.”

    Great eh.

    That last paragraph is amazing.

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