At the beginning of the last century, Christians represented a quarter of the population of the Middle East. Their churches dotted the landscapes of what is now Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. When Islam appeared in the region in the seventh century, Arab Christianity was already six hundred years old. Its worldwide influence was profound. They practised the custom of ‘prostration’ now almost exclusively associated with Muslims, and had always used (and still does) the term ‘Allah’ to refer to ‘God’. Egypt's Coptic Christians gave to the early Irish Celtic church its tradition of monasticism. Assyrian Christian scholars translated many of the Greco-Roman and Persian scientific texts into Arabic, thereby helping in the flowering of Islamic civilisation under the Abbasid Caliphate. From the eight until the eleventh century the Nestorians, with their heartland in modern Iraq and Iran were the most influential of all Christian churches with bishoprics stretching as car as southern Arabia and eastern China.
A religious tolerance more or less held in the Middle East for centuries until it began to be replaced about one hundred years ago by hatred and even genocide. This began in World War One when, according to many leading historians, the Ottoman Turks massacred three million Armenians, Assyrian and Pontiac Greeks in World War One because of their faith and ethnicity.
From 2001, the ‘Born-Again Christian’ George Bush unleashed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that he termed a ‘crusade’ which has led to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Combined with the pro-Zionist views of influential right-wing American Christians, who believe that all of Palestine must become Jewish in preparation for Christ’s return to Earth for the great final battle of ‘Armageddon’ (aka the ‘Rapture’), the response across the Middle East and environs has been the unleashing of a wave of murderous religious extremism. Too often local Christian communitities became an easy and accessible target. Christians now make up less than 6% of the region's population.
Yet as with Russia and China, US foreign policy is driven by an imperial greed that has nothing to do with freedom, democracy, liberty and justice. Its key global allies are bigoted religious authoritarian regimes such as Israel with its campaign of colonisation of Arab lands by foreign Jewish settlers; Saudi Arabia where Christian worship and that of other religions is banned, where school children are taught to hate ‘infidels’ or non-believers, and where conversion from Islam to any other religion (apostasy) is punishable by death; Iraq where a campaign of ethnic cleansing has led to possibly 500,000 Christians fleeing the country since 2004; and an Egypt where religious discrimination is practiced, where churches are bombed; where reports of the kidnapping, rape and forced marriages of young Christian Coptic women to Muslim men are increasing.
The great Irish writer and Protestant cleric Jonathan Swift was correct in his analysis that “We have enough religion to make us hate each other but not enough to make us love one another”.
So surely there is an obvious case for the expulsion of these and other countries from a United Nations with its ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ that includes Article 18 which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”?
Sadly the EU and the Irish government will do little of substance to end religious and other types of persecution in countries where they have vested economic interests.