Barbara Kay: The war on Christianity in the Middle East

by Yoni Goldstein
Barbara Kay
I once read a memorable scene in a book about the Nazi era in which an eager young member of the SS was trying to impress his superior with the zealotry of his anti-Semitism. The younger man explained that he had arranged to have a story published somewhere that would indict the Jews for a variety of crimes of sexual perversity as a means of ratcheting up public hatred for them. The older man looked at the youth with contempt and said something like this: “Who will take such a ridiculous accusation seriously? I hate Jews, but everybody knows they are good family people and don’t go in for sexual perversity. Find something people will believe.”

The older SS man may have been evil, but he was smart. If you are going to be evil, be evil in a clever way. I am reminded of that passage by a fevered attack on Israel in Time magazine’s MidEast Blog of May 8, in which columnist Andrew Lee Butters claims, amongst other wide-ranging accusations against Israel, that “the creation of Israel has been a disaster for Christians in the Middle East.”

That was shocking news to me. And should be, since not only isn’t it true, it isn’t true in a big way. I read about Butters ridiculous accusations in Canadian poet and polemicist David Solway’s article in FrontPage Magazine, Israel’s Oppressive Treatment of Christians?. From what I gleaned in Solway’s exhaustive rebuttal of any such claim, Butters seems to represent a uniquely meretricious cadre of sycophantic, self-abasing Christians who have discovered a strategy for combining Israel-bashing and Islamo-ingratiation in one fell — but fallacious — swoop.

Solway’s article is a stunning eye-opener. He cites allegations of Israel’s inhumanity to Christians from numerous “respectable” sources: National Geographic Magazine, whose June feature article compares Palestinian Christians to rats trapped in an Israeli cage; the New England Conference of the Methodist Church’s libelous accusation that Israeli actions “endanger Christians;” and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ claim that the Israeli security fence — “ostensibly for keeping out terrorists” (since it has reduced terrorism by 95%, it is more than “ostensible”) — has contributed to the decline of the Christian community in Israel.

Where to begin to refute such absurd calumnies? For openers: Hamas and radical Muslim sects routinely drive Christians from their homes and churches. The Salafis want to cleanse the Gaza Strip of its 2,500 Christians. Individual Christians have been killed or maimed there simply for being Christian. Both the Latin Church and the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza City have been torched and looted, and the 8,000-book YMCA library destroyed. The director of the Teacher’s Bookshop, run by the Palestinian Bible Society, was stabbed to death.

Solway’s long article chronicles a distressing litany of Arab inhumanity to Christians: “Further afield, Egypt has repressed its Christian minority for generations, Sudan has closed the Christian Unity High School in Khartoum, Malaysia has confiscated Christian books on the grounds that they are offensive “to the sensibilities of Muslims,” Jordan has arrested eight Christian evangelicals for “propagating the Christian faith,” Algeria is cracking down on Evangelical churches whose liturgy, in the words of Algerian minister of religious affairs, Bouabdellah Ghlamallah, is equivalent to “terrorism,” and the Shia majority in Basra is killing and abducting Christians, having already forced the cancellation of the 2007 Christmas festivities.

Catholic churches are frequently bombed in Iraq, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Paulus Faraj Rahho, was abducted and killed — he was not the first — and on May 21, 2009, a suicide bomber detonated in an Assyrian Christian market in Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding twice that number. Estimates put the current exodus of Christians from Iraq at over half the Christian population of the country. None of which has anything to do with Israel and everything to do with Muslim “sensitivities.” ”

If Western Islamophiles are determined to see no evil in any culture but their own and Israel’s, some candid Arabs are more forthright with the truth. Solway offers the startling frankness of Saudi journalist Hussein Shukakshi, who admitted writing in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on Feb. 2, 2008 that “the Arab world is being drained of its Christian residents. The rate of Christian emigration from Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan and Syria has reached astonishing proportions. Palestine in particular is facing a plan to eradicate the entire deeply-rooted Christian presence from its territories.”

Palestinian journalist Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar supports this dramatic claim in an October 25, 2008 column for Al-Ayyam: “Christians are being persecuted … in most Arab countries.” He goes on to say that in Palestine “the trend is the same … The most fundamental problem [is that] we continue to instill a horrific culture in our children, one that sees Christians as infidels.”

By contrast, Christians are perfectly at home in Israel, and not the least bit fearful of their rights being taken away or — impossible even to contemplate — afraid for their physical safety. Why would they be? Jews are pluralists and believe there are many routes to the one God. They do not proselytize. They are respectful of all religions. Let us remember that Israel has always tended to Christian holy places with care and reverence whenever they have held political sway over them, but the sites have been neglected at best and often desecrated under Arab guardianship.

The Christian community in the Palestinian areas has shrunk to 1.7% through no fault of Israel. Bethlehem, where Christians were once the majority, are now a timid minority and endangered — again, through no fault of Israel’s. According to Solway’s article, a Church official told Israeli-Arab reporter Khaled Abu Toameh that “radical Islamic groups are waging a campaign to get rid of us and no one seems to care.”

It is an old cliché, but still a true one: There are none so blind as those that will not see. The reality is that Israel is the only country in the Mideast where Christians can feel safe, and where Christianity can flourish unmolested.

A final, rather chilling thought: On Dec. 22, 2008, Hamas legalized crucifixion. That would indicate a certain cast of mind you won’t find in Israel, where there is no death penalty, let alone a death penalty so obscenely disrespectful of Christian sensibilities. How many Christians will Hamas have to crucify before those Christians who hate Israel more than they love themselves open their eyes to the truth about who is doing what to whom in the Middle East?