Ethnic and Religious Minorities in the Middle East are in Peril, But Nobody Seems to Care

For the last month, the international community has been preoccupied with the conflict in the Gaza Strip, where Israel has been fighting to safeguard its citizens from barrages of rocket fire and infiltration attempts onto its territory by terrorists who have been using Gaza’s civilians as human shields to protect themselves and their weapons from the Israeli onslaught.  And while different nation-states and international organizations have been busy heaping condemnation on Israel for defending itself, the cries for help from other peoples in the region, specifically those who happen to be members of an ethnic or religious minority, have generally gone unnoticed.

Christian and Other Religious Minorities in the Middle East on Brink of Extinction:

Anyone familiar with the history of the Middle East knows that Christianity was founded in the region just as Judaism and Islam were.  Indeed, Jesus Christ is sometimes referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, after the town where he spent his childhood, now located in northern Israel.  Christianity once thrived throughout the region and some of the oldest Christian communities still reside there…but for how long?  Not too long, if the Islamist fanatics have their way.  The Christian exodus from the Middle East began as the Arab states in the region gained their independence.  Under the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism, many Arab states began a process of Arabization and Islamization in which anything and anyone non-Arab and non-Muslim was considered heresy and needed to be uprooted.  The Christian population in the Middle East is now at its lowest level history, since the founding of the religion itself.  In fact, one of the only Middle Eastern states in which the Christian population is actually growing is Israel.  Contrast this with other parts of the Holy Land, such as Bethlehem or the Gaza Strip, both of which are communities under Palestinian control where the Christian population has sharply declined.

The gravest threat to Christian communities in the Middle East today is the growing reach of the so-called Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS.  This group, which some say is more extreme than even Al-Qaeda, has taken over large swathes of territory in northern and central Iraq, as well as northeastern Syria.  Some of this captured territory includes large cities, like the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.  In fact, shortly after the Islamic State captured Mosul, the group ordered the city’s large Christian community to covert to Islam, pay a head tax, or be killed (see: Iraqi Christians flee from Mosul after ISIS ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death).  This ultimatum triggered a max exodus of Christians from the city.  The most recent advances of the Islamic State’s military forces have left another ancient religious community, the Yazidis, virtually trapped and pleading for help from the international community (see: Politician begs world to help Iraq’s Yazidis). The response from the international community so far: pure silence – so quiet that you can hear the wind pushing the tumbleweeds past your feet.  But of course, it isn’t Jews or Israelis carrying out this campaign of extermination, so the rest of the world simply doesn’t care.

Muslim Extremists Look to Preserve and Reclaim Their Conquests of Ages Past:

Whether it’s Hamas, Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, or some other terrorist group, all Islamists share one common agenda: to preserve the conquests made by Islamic rulers in medieval times, to take back territory formerly controlled by those rulers, and to rid all Muslim territory of non-Muslim elements, whether they be Jews, Christians or anyone else.  In essence, they are continuing the fight that the Muslim Arab invaders of old started in the seventh century following the Prophet Mohammed’s death, in which the Middle East’s original Jewish and Christian populations were displaced, exterminated and/or marginalized by hordes of Muslim Arab invaders.  It’s time the region’s original inhabitants started fighting back!

Mideast’s Original Inhabitants Must Take Back What is Theirs

I do not believe it is enough for ethnic and religious communities in the Middle East to just try and hold onto what they still have.  On the contrary, they need to take back what once belonged to them, just as Israel has done.  Israel hasn’t been “conquering” or “occupying” land since it was founded in 1948; it has been taking it back and restoring it to its original inhabitants – the Jewish people.  In fact, even some Christians in what is now Israel have begun to support the state, remembering that their community predates the Muslim Arab community in the country and knowing that they will have a better future in the State of Israel than in an Islamized state of Palestine (see, for example: Israeli-Arab Christians take to the streets of Haifa for an unusual protest).

I believe that non-Arab and non-Muslim communities in the Middle East need to follow Israel’s example and take back their territory, or at least their independence, from the descendants of the Muslim Arab invaders.  Indeed, the Kurds of northern Iraq have begun doing this, taking back Kurdish territory from the Arab, Muslim dominated Iraqi government, including Kirkuk, which some call the Kurdish Jerusalem.  I hope this trend will continue and that the Middle East’s original inhabitants will take back their territory and their independence from the Arab Islamist horde, whose thirst for land and power knows no bounds.  I am certainly not saying that Mideast’s original communities should try to push the Muslim Arabs all the way back to the Arabian peninsula where they came from, because by doing this, they would be guilty of the same ethnic cleansing that they have been victims of.  What I am saying is that it’s time for the regions’ original peoples to put themselves back on the map and do what is necessary to preserve and rebuild their proud cultures. 

First published on August 6, 2014

About the Author
Jason Shvili was born and raised in the Greater Toronto Area. He studied at the University of Toronto and now aspires to make a living as a writer after spending more than a decade running his own business. He is proficient in Hebrew and also has working to advanced knowledge of Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian.
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