The recent wave of deadly attacks on Iraqi Christians must have cast a pall over Christmas celebrations worldwide this year. But one can’t help wondering whether it also prompted any soul-searching at the Vatican.
After all, it was just two months ago that a synod of Middle East bishops proclaimed Israel the main source of Middle East Christians’ woes. As the Jerusalem Post reported, it “blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for spurring the flight of Christians from the Middle East” and “laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.” The synod’s president, Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, even implied that Jews had no right to a state here at all and that Israel should be eradicated through the “return” of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. And though the Vatican disavowed that comment, Pope Benedict XVI also said that Middle East peace – a term usually synonymous with “Israeli-Arab peace” – was the best way to halt Christian emigration.
In reality, of course, the plight of Palestinian Christians pales beside that of their Iraqi brethren. More than half of Iraq’s Christians – hundreds of thousands in all – have fled their country since 2003, after being targeted in numerous deadly attacks. And not even Al-Qaida has tried to link these attacks to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, though it’s not shy about inventing “justifications”: For instance, it deemed October’s bloody siege at a Baghdad church retaliation for an alleged offense by Egypt’s Coptic Church.
Compare this to the booming business scene in Bethlehem, where tourism is up 60 percent over 2009 despite Israeli “oppression.” One astute Palestinian businessman attributed the boom to the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to reduce violence – a tacit (and correct) acknowledgement that what previously destroyed the PA’s economy was not Israel, but Palestinian terror. Or compare Iraq’s Christian crisis to the fivefold increase in Israel’s Christian population, from 34,000 in 1949 to 152,000 in 2009.
This month, the New York Times reported that many fleeing Iraqi Christians “evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews” after Israel’s establishment in 1948.
“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”
It’s eerily reminiscent of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous statement about the Nazis: “They came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me. And by that time, there was no one left to speak for me.”
But there’s one crucial difference. The Church, as the synod statement shows, isn’t merely remaining silent; it’s actively speaking out against the Jews – and thereby collaborating with its own enemies, the radical Islamists.
It evidently hopes to thereby turn the Islamists’ wrath away from Christians. But as the recent attacks show, appeasement hasn’t worked.
So perhaps it’s time for the Church to learn from its mistakes in World War II and instead try speaking out against its true enemies – the radical Islamists who seek to cleanse the Middle East of both Jews and Christians.