As Americans celebrate Christmas in peace in our nation, many Christians across the Middle East are in peril: Muslim fanatics seek to exterminate them.
Over the past several years, Christians have endured bombings, murders, assassinations, torture, imprisonment and expulsions. These anti-Christian pogroms culminated recently with the brutal attack on Our Lady of Salvation, an Assyrian Catholic church in Baghdad. Al Qaeda gunmen stormed the church during Mass, slaughtering 51 worshippers and two priests. Father Wassim Sabih begged the jihadists to spare the lives of his parishioners. They executed him and then launched their campaign of mass murder.
Their goal was to inflict terror - thereby causing chaos in the hopes of undermining Iraq’s fledgling democracy - and to annihilate the country’s Christian minority. After the siege, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia issued a bulletin claiming that “all Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for” jihadists.
Since the 2003 war in Iraq, Christians have faced a relentless assault from Islamic extremists. Many of these groups, such as the Assyrians, consist of the oldest Christian sects in the world, going back to the time of Christ. Some even speak Aramaic, the language used by Jesus. The very roots of our Christian heritage are being extirpated.
Religious cleansing is taking place everywhere in Iraq - by Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Before the toppling of Saddam Hussein, there existed more than 1 million Christians in Iraq. They are now mostly gone - scattered to the winds, sacrificed on the altar of erecting an Islamic state. Churches have been closed or blown up. Hundreds of thousands have been expelled. Nearly two-thirds of the 500,000 Christians in Baghdad have fled or been killed. In Mosul, about 100,000 Christians used to live there. Now, just 5,000 remain. Soon there will be none.
The rise of radical Islam threatens Christian communities not only in Iraq, but across the Middle East. In Egypt, Coptic Christians routinely are murdered, persecuted and prevented from worshipping - especially during religious holy days such as Christmas and Easter. In the birthplace of Christ, Bethlehem, Christians have largely been forced out. In Nazareth, they are a tiny remnant. In Saudi Arabia, Muslim converts to Christianity are executed. Churches and synagogues are prohibited. In Turkey, Islamists have butchered priests and nuns. In Lebanon, Christians have dwindled to a sectarian rump, menaced by surging Shiite and Sunni populations.
The Vatican estimates that from Egypt to Iran there are just 17 million Christians left. Christianity is on the verge of extinction in the ancient lands of its birth. In short, a creeping religious genocide is taking place.
Yet the West remains silent for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities. This must stop - immediately. For years, Pope Benedict XVI has been demanding that Islamic religious leaders adopt a new policy: reciprocity. If Muslims - funded and supported by Saudi Arabia - can build mosques and madrassas in Europe and America, then Christians - Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox - should be entitled to build churches in the Arab world. For all of their promises, however, Muslim leaders have failed to deliver. In fact, the situation has only deteriorated.
Clearly, some Muslims cannot live in peaceful coexistence with non-Muslim peoples - especially in countries where Muslims form the majority. Christian minorities living in the overwhelmingly Muslim-dominated Middle East pose no possible danger to Islamic hegemony. Hence, why the hatred against them?
This is a repeat of an old historical pattern: the periodic ebb and flow of Islamic jihadism. From its inception, Islam has been engaged in a struggle with Christian civilization. Led by the Prophet Muhammad some 600 years after the birth of Christ, the Muslim faith spread across the Middle East through violence and war. Christians were either forcibly converted or slowly expelled from their ancestral lands. Following the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula, Muslim armies invaded North Africa, Spain, France and the Balkans. At one point, they even reached the gates of Vienna - until they were repelled by the brave knights of Catholic Croatia. The sword of Islam sought to conquer Christian Europe.
Bernard Lewis, the foremost historian on the Middle East, rightly argues that the Crusades were not the result of Western imperialism; rather, they signified a belated - and only partially successful - effort to liberate once-Christian territories from Islamic aggression. Europe was saved; Jerusalem and the Middle East were not.
Today’s anti-Christian pogroms are not new. They are what Christians have historically faced - persecution, death and martyrdom. In Roman times, Christians were thrown to the lions in the Coliseum. In the Islamic world, they are being murdered, raped, beheaded and thrown out of their homes. The only difference is the means, not the end.
The Christians of the Middle East are dying for their convictions, as did so many others before them. For this, they will receive their just reward in heaven. Their deaths are a salient reminder that, contrary to liberal myth, Islam is not a “religion of peace.” Instead, it contains a militant segment bent on waging a holy war against infidels and erecting a global caliphate.
There is, however, a true religion of peace. It began with a baby boy born in a manger in Bethlehem. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came to shine a light into the dark souls of men. As Christians recall and celebrate that humble birth, we also should stand in solidarity with those who are, 2,000 years later, still being persecuted in His name.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.