Why are most Arab rulers silent on the plight of Iraq’s Christians?

By The Daily Star

Iraq’s ancient Christian community has seen its security situation take a sudden turn for the worse in recent weeks, especially in and around the northern city of Mosul. Deadly attacks and threats of more to come have driven thousands of people from their homes, and although the sources and motivations of the aggression remain unclear, there is no denying either the inherent injustice of innocent people being targeted solely on the basis of their faith or the awful implications for the troubled country’s future.

There is another disturbing element to the latest round of ethnic cleansing to take place in Iraq since its government was overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2003: The loudest Arab voices trying to call attention to the crisis are here in tiny Lebanon, where Christian religious and political leaders have been joined by their Muslim counterparts, both Sunni and Shiite, in condemning the attacks and demanding action to stop them. That speaks well (for once) of this country’s frequently divided elites, but it says something far less flattering about most of the Arab world.

It will be recalled that during the run-up to the illegal invasion that led to years of bloodletting in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Western capitals and other cities to voice their rejection of the entire project. Most of them were Christians, and there they were standing up for the rights and interests of mostly Muslim Iraqis whose fates were about to be tossed into the maelstrom of war.

Iraq’s Christian community, which long predates the arrival of Islam, has always constituted a key pillar of the country’s social fabric. Yet today, with its position in rapid decline, most Arab rulers seem not to care – and therefore not to recognize the damning implications for their own fitness to lead. It is not just violence that stalks Iraq’s Christians: The recently promulgated election law also does away with guarantees designed to ensure their full representation in Parliament. Combined, these two factors threaten to virtually eliminate a community that has already seen its numbers drop sharply since 2003.

It is not often that Lebanon can realistically be credited with leading the way on a regional issue of global import. Usually this country’s leading clerics and politicians are too wrapped up in internecine squabbles to comment intelligently (if at all) on outside developments. This time, however, they got it right. The question is whether this will be enough to shame their opposite numbers in other Arab countries into getting their heads of the sand and condemning the tragedy now unfolding.