The Extinction of Eastern Christianity May Figure Europe’s Own Future
Natural disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes have spawned magnificent solidarity movements in the West, but the disappearance of a Christian population, of its two thousand old civilization and memory, moves no one. (Giulio Meotti)
An interview with Bat Ye’or, a foremost historian of the Middle East.
The numbers of Christians in the Middle East are dwindling. In Iraq, there were 1.4 million Christians in 2003 and there are now 270,000. In Syria, they were 1,1 million before the civil war and are now 400,000. Everywhere, from Lybia to Iraq, the Islamic State is beheading Christians or converting them to Islam.
It is a demographic and religious revolution of immense historic consequences. We talk with Bat Ye’or, the great Jewish historian of Egyptian origin who dedicated many books to what she called “dhimmitude”, the subjugation of minorities (Jews and Christians) under Islam.
What is the situation of Eastern Christianity?
The situation of Eastern Christianity is a tragedy of immense proportions. It entails human sufferings on a traumatic scale. Even those, like Egyptian President Sisi who would like to help, seem powerless in such dramatic circumstances. As for the West, the ideological and strategic choices it made in the last century incapacitate it and obscure its understanding.
Natural disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes have spawned magnificent solidarity movements in the West, but the disappearance of a Christian population, of its two thousand old civilization and memory, moves no one. Maybe it is one more sign of Western decadence, of a deliberate policy of deleting Christian identity by choosing globalization and Islamization – a policy based on the rejection of Judeo-Christian values rooted in our actual Western culture of execration of Israel.
We saw tens of thousands of people walking in the main European capitals on behalf of the Palestinians that were showering Israeli civilians with missiles and shouting “death to Israel and the Jews”, but Christian agony in Muslim lands would bring only five hundred timid protesters out to the Parisian streets.
Since the 1970s, all European political parties have supported the Palestinians and Arab-Muslim interests. Eastern Christians were in the vanguard of the anti-Zionist European policy and like the Egyptian Edward Said, the severest detractors of the West, while magnifying the superiority of Muslim civilization.
Of course, it was only the desperate shield of vulnerable Christian communities living under a Damocles spade, a population that could only survive in the Islamic sea by supporting the power that destroyed them.
The Caliphate’s policy revolts many Muslims even if most dreamed of the establishment of an idealized Caliphate. But in fact, Isis’s rules are those that were applied after the successful jihadist conquests of the Christian Middle East. The massacres, the enslavement, the expulsions, the ransoming, the destruction of monuments, books and legacy of former civilizations or their Islamization, are described in thousands of books throughout the centuries. But since last century and Europe’s love story with the Palestinians, this history was forbidden in Europe and replaced with the Islamic view of history contrasting Muslim peaceful tolerance and Israel’s devilish nature.
Like in their former wanderings, Eastern Christians find refuge in neighboring Muslim countries with other persecuted minorities. The human trials which need international help are aggravated by the loss of historical identity, of centuries old treasures and of the memories of past generations enshrined in old books preciously kept throughout the vicissitudes of time.
These collective experiences weave the long history of dhimmitude, which is now returning with the enforcement of a strict shariah rule that had been adulterated in some Muslim countries by modernization. Hence, we see now under our eyes the reality of dhimmitude that has been consistently denied by political consensus.
How do you see the future of Christians in the Middle East? Will they follow the Jews who fled those lands in 1948?
It is difficult to foresee the evolution of this chaos provoked by a blind Europe and Obama, both probably seduced by the advice of their preferred counselors: the radicalized Muslims and Muslim Brotherhood. It is clear that whatever will happen, Christians will emigrate. Maybe a reduced Coptic community will remain in Egypt, but Christian presence will weaken in other regions.
Already, the Christian character of Lebanon has vanished as a consequence of the routing out of the proud Lebanese Christians by the Palestinians and their Muslim allies in the civil war of the 1970-80s, with Europe and particularly France, supporting the Palestinians. Cynical people accuse the West of encouraging Christian’s emigration by giving them entry visas, but if the West wants a robust Christianity in its former homeland it must have the courage to defend it – a policy it vehemently rejected after the First World War.
Europe has desisted from defending itself, how would it defend others? While being president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi mocked Israel’s protection of its citizens giving as an example a self-confident Europe open to the world, encouraging immigration and with no enemy. Would he be able to repeat this bluster today?
The Christians will flee, but not like the Jews. Most of the Jews returned, in spite of Europe’s governments, to their homeland where they restored their ancient civilization. They couldn’t do it without an external help, Jewish and Christian. Moreover Jews had a vision that united them in spite of their divisions and differences. The proclamation of man liberty and dignity, the liberation from slavery constituted the birth certificate of the people of Israel that kept its identity and soul throughout the millenaries of serfdom.
Christians too are heir of this epic as long as they accept the Hebrew bible. But Christians became from the end of the 19th century the victims of rival political European interests that divided them and aggravated their religious scissions. Fractured, traumatized by the early 20th century genocides in the Ottoman provinces, Eastern Christianity could not, without external help, reorganize itself. This was a terrible Christian failure.
Is the West guilty of the Christian tragedy?
In my view: yes! In many ways….England and France were responsible for splitting Christian identity by persuading the Christians that they were Arabs and that they had to militate with Muslims for a new ideology: Arab nationalism that would suppress Zionism.
There were Christian Arabs, but most Christians were Eastern Christians who were Arabized by the Arab conquest of their lands. Moreover many Christians were not anti-Israeli and felt that the Israelis were the indigenous inhabitants of the Middle East before the Arab conquest in the 7th century. On the advice of the two colonial powers Christians became more Arab than the Arabs after the traumatizing experience of the big massacres in Lebanon and Syria in 1860.
From then on, they became the Christian mercenaries of Muslim causes and particularly of the Palestinians later on. This dhimmi militancy on behalf of Islam and its expanding domination altered their historical consciousness. Being vulnerable minorities, they were used so as to spread in the West anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli hatred in the West. They had to bury their dhimmi history to praise Islamic tolerance.
On the political level, France, England and America refused to grant to the Assyrians and Armenians an autonomous national territory after the First World War, fearing the rage of the Muslim population of their new Arab colonies.
They refused the Christian request for a protection in the new Arab states at the end of the mandate period, stating that their best protection would be their integration as Arabs in their new countries. The result was a great massacre of Assyrians in the 1930s.
European powers never considered the Eastern Christians’ interests, their policy aimed to handle carefully the large colonized Muslim populations or later the new Arab and Muslim states in an age of oil dependency.
It was the same with Kurdish demand for autonomy. Only the false Palestinian national identity based on jihad – created by France in 1969 – has become the consensus for the European Union hidden war against Israel. Having denied the history of dhimmitude, Europe now is living without knowing it under some dhimmitude’s rule, evidenced by its insecurity under jihadist threats. I
In a way, the extinction of Eastern Christianity might figure Europe’s own future.
Following Bat Ye’or tragic prognosis, Yale’s Jewish scientist David Gelernter was right in the last number of First Things magazine in his call for an alliance between Jews and Christians.
Since the State of Israel is still in the process of fighting for her own existence, by allying with the Jews the Christians can amend their own past mistakes and gamble in their own future.