Western Conservatives are Wrong on Christians in the Middle East



by Eldar Mamedov

This week the European Parliament gears up for a debate on the situation of Christians in the Middle East. The horrific Palm Sunday bombings at two Egyptian churches on April 9 that killed at least 45 people have spurred the discussion. The so-called Islamic State (ISIS or IS) has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks.

Conservative political forces—the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), a collection of mainstream Christian-democratic parties, and, to its right, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), an alliance of British Tories and assorted right-wingers—spearheaded the move to place this debate on the plenary agenda of the EP. Centrist and left-leaning groups such as Social Democrats, liberals and Greens, while not objecting in principle to debating the plight of the Christians, traditionally advocate a more inclusive approach that condemns the persecution of all religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East, not just Christians.

If, however, the conservatives really care about the fate of the Christians in the Middle East, they should recognize that the situation is worst in some of the countries they count among the West´s staunchest allies. At the same time, the country the conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic often single out as a chief source of trouble in the region—Iran—is a far safer place for Christians, even if only by the admittedly low standards of the Middle East.

Take the latest atrocity in Egypt. Even as its president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, wins plaudits in the West for his supposed defense of Christians, the local Copts accuse the Egyptian security services of inadequate protection that made the Palm Sunday massacre possible.

Although US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, his boss chooses Saudi Arabia as a destination for his first foreign visit. This is a country where churches are not allowed at all, and even private ceremonies and a possession of Bible can lead to an arrest.

Back in Europe, an overwhelming majority of the EPP and ECR MPs voted against an amendment to the 2016 resolution demanding an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia because of the situation in Yemen. More recently, a conservative Euro MP hosted an exhibition in the parliament lauding Qatar as a model of human rights in Islam. Although conditions for Christians there are not as extreme as in Saudi Arabia, Qatar tolerates no public visibility of their faith. Most Christians in Qatar are migrant workers from Philippines, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka, who work in extremely harsh conditions and are denied their basic religious rights.

In Iran, by contrast, where the Christian population of mostly Armenians and Assyrians numbers approximately 300,000 people, the practice of Christianity is protected by law. The constitution of the Islamic Republic reserves five seats in the parliament for members of the religious minorities, among them two to Armenians, and one to Assyrians (the other two to Jews and Zoroastrians). Christians in Iran have their own schools, community centers, and even a football club called “Ararat.” In fact, the captain of the Iranian national football team is Andranik Teymourian, an Armenian Christian.

Armenians are also free to publicly commemorate on April 24 the genocide inflicted on them in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, although in Turkey, another Western ally, acknowledgment of that genocide is still considered a crime.

The Iranian state takes care of the maintenance of the Christian churches, some of which have great artistic and historic value such as the Vank Cathedral in Isfahan and Saint Thaddeus church in the town of Maku in West Azerbaijan province. Religious tourism is growing to these places from Armenia, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Unlike in Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey, in Iran there have been neither murders of Christians nor attacks on churches motivated by anti-Christian hatred.

In recent years in Iran, inter-faith dialogue initiatives with Christians have picked up, notably by some senior Shiite clerics, such as the Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. Also interested in these efforts are followers of the late Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani at the Imam Sadegh University that he established as well as clerics and students at the Qom-based University of Religions, which features the Old and New Testaments (alongside other religious and secular texts) in its library.

Of course, Iran is not a paradise for the Christians. The overall lack of democracy and freedom pushes many of them to emigrate, alongside other Iranians. They also suffer from discrimination specific to religious minorities. Christians are barred from holding high state offices, such as the presidency or in the judiciary, Council of Guardians, army, and security services. Security forces sometimes deal harshly with missionary activities, which are illegal. Converts often suffer discrimination in employment and pressure to revert to Islam. However, the traditional Islamic punishment—the death penalty—has not been applied in such cases.

There are other shifts as well. When powerful cleric Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Council of Guardians, tried to bar non-Muslims from running in local races (to take place on May 19, the same day as the presidential election), he was promptly contradicted by other clerics and officials, such as a senior Ayatollah Yousef Sanaei and the speaker of the parliament Ali Larijani. They argued that such a step would violate the constitution. In fact, some well-informed observers of Iranian politics point out that this year more Christian candidates are running than in previous local elections.

Talking about Christians in the Middle East these days, sadly, amounts to little more than examining the degrees of their discrimination and persecution. If, however, the concern of the European and American conservatives about the plight of the Christians is to be of any consequence, they need to rethink some of their alliances in the Middle East. After all, any true conservative would accept that a country that respects Christians’ right to life and basic religious freedom is a more natural ally than one that totally bans Christianity.

Photo: Dzor Dzor Armenian church in Iran (Afshin Iranpour via Wikimedia Commons)

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    Here is a story that I only came across today. It occurred three months ago in Yemen. It is a story of a so-called rebel raid on a Catholic retirement home that left sixteen dead. Read the story and realize as I did that they were not random victims of crazed gunmen but professional hit-men using silencers and dispatching each of the dead with a shot to the right temple. It is told by a nun who was present and escaped.

    Of a mind to keep my friends close but enemies closer I visited the “Christians United for Israel” site when I got my first clue in a request for prayers on the site.

    The introduction on the CUFI site is first and then followed by a more indepth, and staggering account of what actually took place. In fact, it would be a deserving story to be published by VT, despite the time lapse.



  2. How strange America’s alliances are. It claims to be a Christian nation yet it has alliances with nations that are not only not Christian but persecute Christians as well. Yet the idiot xtian zionists ignore that fact. They ignore that members of their own faith are persecuted in israel. You just can’t fix stupid. How odd that the onlty countries in the middle east that allow Christianity ie: Iran and Syria are targeted for destruction and that xtians here in America gleefully cheer it on.
    To wit: religion is a fraud and a sham. The invention of religion has been the single worst creation next to the atom bomb. It could possibly be even worse.religion is a proven failure. It produces frauds , charlatans, carney barkers and pick pockets all the while proclaiming to be the last and final word of some god. The world was better off and safer when people worshiped the Sun or the trees for that matter than we are at this stage of the game.

  3. Comments of Trump and Netanyahu as he lands in Israel:
    “Upon landing, Trump praised “unbreakable bond” between the U.S. and Israel. “On my first trip overseas as president, I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the State of Israel,” Trump said.
    “We love Israel, we respect Israel, and I bring the warmest greetings from your friend and ally, all of the people of the United States of America,” Trump stated.

    Nayanyahu pointed out that in Saudi Arabia yesterday, Trump “delivered a forceful speech on terrorism and extremism, called on forces of civilization to confront the forces of barbarism.”
    “For 69 years, Israel has been doing just that,” Netanyahu said. “We’ve manned the front-lines of civilization.”
    “In doing so we’ve protected all faiths, Muslims, Christians, everyone,” Netanyahu said.
    “Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” Netanyahu continued. “The peace we seek is a genuine one, in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands, and the conflict ends once and for all.””

    • Trump should have thrown out wads of hundred dollar bills in the air and let the cameras roll as Netanyahu and his wife get down on their hands and knees with all the others scrambling to pick them up. It might have caused a riot. Their GOD is MONEY.

  4. Please take note!…Rachel’s Tomb, a small attractive shrine to Jacob’s wife and a significant Bethlehem landmark has become a military outpost. The Shrine which is sacred to three faiths is now forbidden to Bethlehem Christians and Muslims…….Proving the imposters who have no connection to the land or the history of it, seek only to destroy it…….look what they have done. and Jesus wept.

  5. ” US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians”…Hypocrite…….and while they bow, scrape and kowtow to imposter israel they are in fact worshipping demons…..The main artery between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is now closed. … no life support in the offer there….[PPT] explains how – Open Bethlehem
    http://www.openbethlehem.org/…/the_impact_of_the_wall_on_bethlehem_today. pps‎
    This presentation explains how Israeli policy has left Bethlehem in a state of captivity ….. and they have the hide to call themselves Christian….the Christians United for Israel are an oxymoron….and morons

  6. This article is so true. Christian Democrats throughout Europe no longer have an idea what is Christianity. They think that Christianity is measured with something that achieves economic growth and nurtures land borders, whereas Christianity in essence is an imitation of Christ. They don’t care about Christians in Europe, let alone anywhere else. Is there anything Christian about NATO movement? Can someone be both NATO and Christian? I don’t believe so but surely knights of Malta or Helmut Kohl wouldn’t agree with me on that one. I believe Christianity (all branches) are in direct contradiction with NATO, and so do the canon law and the Bible say. Christians do not murder or organize preemptive wars. In fact I don’t think those western conservatives are Christian at all. They only borrow postulates amended or rectified for Christian ethics.

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