It is useful for Muslims and their Western apologists to perpetrate the myth that Christians are a naturally declining minority in the Middle East which has contributed nothing to the intellectual or moral development of the area. The increasing cultural isolation of Christians, economic migration and declining birth rate all play a part in the armoury of Islamic apologists who ignore the increasingly vicious persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and for our government to maintain its shameful silence at the religious apartheid of the Muslim states in that area.
Since the rise of Islam Christians have never enjoyed equality in the Middle East. Dhimmitude, pre or post-Ottoman, is not healthy for any community. Nevertheless, Christians managed to contribute in a significant measure to the Muslim world.
Islamists and their apologists will never admit it but Christians, with the occasional Jew, played a significant part in the intellectual development of the Muslim world. During the 8th and 9th centuries the Greek philosophical works which had such an impact on Muslim philosophy were translated in Baghdad by a team of over 50 Christians. As well as the translators there were Christian doctors, philosophers, scientists, even theologians working away to give Islam the intellectual building blocks which transformed Islam from the warlike culture of nomadic people into an relatively advanced civilisation.
Even as recently as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein life for Christians in Iraq, although precarious, was bearable. With the invasion life for Christians became intolerable. Sunni radicals bombed, murdered, kidnapped and generally created havoc in the lives of Christians. Before the war there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, today it is doubtful if even 400,000 doughty souls remain.
Although their numbers are fast declining the 10% of Egypt’s population who are Copts now account for about half the Christians in the Middle East. Under Sadat and Mubarak things were not easy for the Copts, there was random and localised persecution which the government did little to stop. Since the Egyptian Revolution things have taken a sharp turn for the worse. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government have created a new constitution which directly threatens the rights of Christians.
As well as restricting Christian’s political rights and threatening church funds it makes life incredibly difficult for any who have converted from Islam. Nadia Mohamed Ali was raised a Christian but married a Muslim. When her husband died she sought permission to return to her faith and have her children’s identification paper’s changed. The result? In January a court in Beni Suef in central Egypt sentenced her and seven children to 15 years in prison.
Saudi Arabia, Britain’s greatest “ally” in the Middle East has a significant Christian population, they are the million or so Africans, Asians and Filipinos who work there, often in the most menial of positions. Saudi Arabia allows no non-Muslim worship, not even in private homes. Worship does occur but is illegal, in February 50 Ethiopians Christians were arrested and their leaders thrown in jail. It is against Saudi law to display a Bible or a cross (even on a football jersey). If anyone steps out of line there is the feared Mutawa or religious police to ensure the law is strictly enforced.
The breathtaking hypocrisy of our own government which prioritises overseas aid and our prime minister who threatens to cut that aid to countries which oppress homosexuals yet has never said a word about persecuted Christians is astounding. To be fair there have been a few low key initiatives but these have always been handled by junior ministers and lower level civil servants. The government has taken pains to ensure that there has been nothing from anyone with actual influence who might, however reluctantly, be listened to.
The idea of a politician in the West actually standing up and speaking out for the rights of Christians in the Middle East is of course preposterous. A combination of lack of clarity about their own identity and the beneficent influence of Western culture, and their own moral weakness renders our politicians speechless in the face of outright evil. Their silence speaks volumes.
It is up to Christians in the UK to pressure our denominational structures and our government to speak out for those who are unable to speak for themselves. The British government should act, it should denounce forthrightly the persecution of people for their beliefs. Aid to Muslim countries should be conditional on those governments upholding basic human rights.