The world's most ancient Christian communities are being destroyed and no one cares

31 January 2014
The world's most ancient Christian communities are being destroyed  and no one cares

The Week 31 January 2014
By Michael Brendan Dougherty

Like many Coptic Christians in Egypt, Ayman Nabil Labib had a tattoo of the cross on his wrist. And like 17-year-old men everywhere, he could be assertive about his identity. But in 2011, after Egypt's revolution, that kind of assertiveness could mean trouble.

Ayman's Arabic-language teacher told him to cover his tattoo in class. Instead of complying, the young man defiantly pulled out the cross that hung around his neck, making it visible. His teacher flew into a rage and began choking him, goading the young man's Muslim classmates by saying, "What are you going to do with him?"

Ayman's classmates then beat him to death. False statements were given to police, and two boys were taken into custody only after Ayman's terror-stricken family spoke out.

Ayman's suffering is not an isolated case in Egypt or the region.

The Arab Spring, and to a lesser extent the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, were touted as the catalysts for a major historic shift in the region. From Egypt to Syria to Iraq, the Middle East's dictatorships would be succeeded by liberal, democratic regimes. Years later, however, there is very little liberality or democracy to show. Indeed, what these upheavals have bequeathed to history is a baleful, and barely noticed legacy: The near-annihilation of the world's most ancient communities of Christians.

The persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East, as well as the silence with which it has been met in the West, are the subject of journalist Ed West's Kindle Single "The Silence of Our Friends." The booklet is a brisk and chilling litany of horrors: Discriminatory laws, mass graves, unofficial pogroms, and exile. The persecuted are not just Coptic and Nestorian Christians who have relatively few co-communicants in the West, but Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants as well.

Throughout the Middle East the pattern is the same. Christians are murdered in mob violence or by militant groups. Their churches are bombed, their shops destroyed, and their homes looted. Laws are passed making them second-class citizens, and the majority of them eventually leave.

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