In July 2016, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (pictured in front at center)—the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church—hosts Ignatius Aphrem II (left), patriarch of Antioch and All East of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Aram I, head of Lebanon’s Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
While Christianity traces its birthplace to the Middle East, that region has been arguably the most hostile area for the religion in recent years. A new report by the Christian charity group Open Doors has found that most of Israel’s neighbors, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories, are among the world’s most dangerous places for Christians.
Susan Michael, U.S. director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), told JNS that “Islamic extremism originated in the Middle East and is the main cause of persecution of Christians in the world today. It is a dangerous and violent ideology that must be stopped.”
Egypt’s embattled Christian minority, which comprises roughly 10 percent of the country’s population and stands as the largest Christian community in the region, has been the frequent target of Islamic terrorism. Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta were struck by suicide bombers last April, killing 45 people on Palm Sunday. Last December, at least eight Christians were killed in a terror attack on a Coptic church south of Cairo.
According to the Open Doors report, Egyptian Christians suffer in “various ways” such as pressure on Christian converts to return to Islam, severe restrictions on building places of worship and congregating, and violence.
“Egyptian Christians have had significant attacks and pressure from extremist elements seeking to impose sharia standards on minority faiths, as well as from ISIS factions that want to use Christians as a useful target to undermine the Egyptian government and economy,” David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, told JNS. He added that the report “shows that people who want to make a decision to explore or practice the Christian faith face great cultural pressure, if not violence.”
Adel Guindy, the former president of Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based human rights organization that promotes equality for Coptic Christians in Egypt, told JNS that the situation for the Copts has worsened considerably under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi—despite his rhetoric in support of Christians and against radical Islam—and has reached “an all-time high.”
“El-Sisi is quick to blame it on ‘external forces,’ [but] it is in fact homegrown. It’s a direct result of a permeating hate culture that dominates the entire public space,” Guindy said.
“Furthermore, the ‘big violence’ events that attract international media’s attention are in fact a mere tip of an iceberg of systemic and systematic discrimination and persecution that amount to a state-sanctioned ‘war of attrition,’” he said.
The rest of the Middle East
Elsewhere, the Open Doors report noted that Christian converts in Jordan face “a great deal of persecution, Christians in the Palestinian territories (Gaza Strip and West Bank) are “caught in the middle of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and that “Islamic militant groups are the clear threat” to Syrian Christians.
“The persecution of Christians in Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian territories does not necessarily come from their governments, but from their populations who have been indoctrinated with Islamic theological teachings that are hostile to non-Muslims. It will take a significant amount of years of intentional education to change that attitude,” said ICEJ’s Michael.
The report identified North Korea as the country where Christians face the highest level of discrimination, followed by Afghanistan and Somalia. More than 3,000 Christians were killed worldwide due to their faith last year.
Other Middle Eastern and North African countries that were ranked among the top 10 most dangerous places for Christians were Libya, Iraq, Iran and Yemen.
“Whether in North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, the Palestinian territories or elsewhere, the persecution of Christians has reached near-epidemic levels,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. “We urge world leaders and international organizations like the U.N. to bring this crisis to the top of their collective agenda and seek to protect endangered Christian minorities and all people of faith.”
The persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries presents a stark contrast to the world’s only Jewish state, where the Christian population has steadily increased in recent years to about 170,000, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Israeli Christians enjoy freedom of worship, and even regularly outperform their Jewish and Muslim counterparts in high school matriculation exams.
“The Arab-Christian minority in Israel is a minority within a minority and faces some challenges, but they are citizens of a democracy that protects their freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” Michael said. “This is in such contrast to the Muslim countries around them, where Christians and their places of worship are regularly attacked. There is a growing number of Christians voluntarily serving in the Israel Defense Forces in order to protect their country and their freedoms from the forces of Islamic militants wanting to destroy Israel.”
Vice President Mike Pence is slated to visit Israel, Egypt and Jordan from Jan. 19-23. According to his spokesperson, Alyssa Farah, Pence is expected “to reaffirm our commitment to work with the U.S.’s allies in the region to defeat radicalism that threatens future generations.”
Coptic Solidarity’s Guindy said that Pence, who is a devout evangelical Christian, should take the opportunity to press Egypt’s El-Sisi on human rights and the protection of Christians.
“It’s certainly important to engage Egypt as a partner in the war against Islamic terrorism. But this should not come at the expense of human rights, civil society and upholding equal citizenship rights for all—including, and especially, Christians and others who do not belong to the Sunni-Muslim majority,” he said.
Michael said that Pence “should require that [countries where Christians are widely persecuted] educate their people to be peaceful and respectful of religious minorities by placing controls on their imams, school textbooks and the media; and make future U.S. financial assistance contingent upon them doing so.”
The future for Mideast Christians
Guindy said that recent trends “make it difficult to predict” whether Mideast Christians can survive “the current tsunami” of persecution.
“The picture is rather gloomy, and the fact that Christians’ presence in the Middle East has shrunk from one-fifth of the population a century ago to barely 3 percent today speaks volumes….Islamist pressure, coupled with the West’s lack of action beyond hollow words of sympathy, make it difficult to be realistically optimistic,” he said.
Michael is more optimistic.
“Leaders of Middle Eastern countries are currently doing a lot of soul-searching because of the violence and civil wars generated by extremism, and this should slowly trickle into Africa and Asia,” she said. “The challenge facing these leaders, however, is changing the hearts and minds of their people.adle-christianity/#yYs5ScOlIIIt5pDw.99ge!
We all know that the midterm elections are different this time around. They are usually like “all politics,” namely local. But this time around they’re different. They are all presidential, all about Trump, as most everything is. And for the anti-Trump crowd — I’m talking about the political commentators and “analysts” — any and all things bad are held to be Trump’s fault. This is presumably because they believe that their condemnations of Trump will result in a Democrat takeover of the House of Representatives.
A new book explores how graffiti artists in Beirut skirt limitations on expression to share political criticism in the streets.
A photograph of the book “Drawing Lines” by Tamara Zantout, taken at the launch of the book at Beit Beirut cultural center, Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 25, 2018.
BEIRUT — Beirut’s alleyways and streets are peppered in bright, detailed and provocative graffiti. Street artists use the medium, which exists in a legal grey area, to express their identity and give voice to political frustrations.
On Tuesday, San Francisco will become the largest city in the nation to allow noncitizens to vote, and the city has spent $310,000 on a “new registration system” specifically aimed at illegals. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the plan is the first in the state and follows Proposition N, a 2016 ballot measure allowing votes by noncitizens over the age of 18, reside in the city, and have children under age 19.
By the count of the Chronicle, only 49 noncitizens have signed up to vote on Tuesday, which works out to $6,326 for every illegal voter, but there’s more to the story. City officials are worried that voting could expose illegals to ICE, who might come looking and possibly deport somebody. So supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, a backer of Proposition N, urged the city to spend $500,000 to warn the illegals.
At first Sabbath service after massacre, shooting survivors are blessed; rabbi says to those who condemned Trump’s visit: ‘No one tells me how to welcome a guest in my own home’
On November 3, 2018, a joint communal Shabbat prayer service at Pittsburgh’s Beth Shalom Conservative synagogue following the massacre a week prior which saw 11 Jewish community members killed. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — A week after an anti-Semitic shooter massacred 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the community embraced each other in prayer on Saturday.
IS EUROPE RETURNING to the horrors of the 1930s? In an assessment typical of the moment, Max Holleran writes in the New Republic that “in the past ten years, new right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies that in the past rightly caused alarm.” He sees this trend creating a surge in “xenophobic populism.” Writing in Politico, Katy O’Donnell agrees: “Nationalist parties now have a toehold everywhere from Italy to Finland, raising fears the continent is backpedaling toward the kinds of policies that led to catastrophe in the first half of the 20th century.” Jewish leaders like Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association, sense “a very real threat from populist movements across Europe.”
IS EUROPE RETURNING to the horrors of the 1930s? In an assessment typical of the moment, Max Holleran writes in the New Republic that “in the past ten years, new right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies that in the past rightly caused alarm.”
We’ve been told for a long time that the ceasefire is on the way. It had many names in the past, such as tahdiah, hudna, and most recently—”an arrangement.” On Friday, once again, reports started emerging that an agreement has been reached. Several hours later, southern Israel was hit with a barrage of rockets. What happened?
And He said, “You will not be able to see My face, for No Human Being shall see Me and live.” — Shemot 33:20
Faith is deeper than knowledge. While scientific data is absorbed only in the brain, faith permeates all parts of the human personality. Nothing is untouched, all spiritual limbs quiver, and everything is transformed. It is thus more difficult to acquire faith than knowledge, and faith has a more radical effect on the human being.
A Catholic archbishop recently touched on an unspoken but highly subversive phenomenon: How anti-Christian forces exploit Christian teachings to empower those who seek to dismantle Christian civilization, Muslims being chief among them.
In an interview published last summer by the Italian outlet IlGionarle.it, Catholic Archbishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan said:
The King of Jordan, not some lowly clerk, announced that Jordan will not extend the currently existing leases renting two parcels of land to Israel. One is the so-called Island of Peace in the northern Naharayim area and the other located in the southern Arava, near Tzofar, an agricultural cooperative village (moshav). Jordan was entirely within its rights to decide not to renew the leases