By Ray Hanania
The Christian world is divided between the Western and Eastern branches, with the Arab world’s Christians largely falling into the latter category. But the Arab Christians have been abandoned and are easy targets for their enemies. Too many Western Christians have turned their backs on the continuing injustices committed against Christians living in Palestine and the Levant.
As a Christian, I have always been in awe of Arab Muslims, who demonstrate a strong sense of societal devotion as well as a fidelity to their religious beliefs. Muslims seem to live their religion every day — a practice that contradicts the feelings of many modern-day Christians, who separate government, politics and most of their lives from their religious beliefs. They seem to box their religion into a small segment of their life, ignoring it until a holiday like Christmas or Easter arrives.
This week is a living dissertation on the challenges Christians face. Last Sunday, April 21, was the mainstream Easter, which is celebrated by the majority of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. This Sunday, April 28, is Easter for the remainder of the Christian world — the Orthodox, who dominate the Middle East. Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christian population is estimated to be 7.5 million. The Orthodox also dominate the 15 million Christians who live in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.
Not surprisingly, Islamist terrorists chose Easter to launch a massive assault in Sri Lanka, a Buddhist-majority island nation located south of India and far away from the Middle East. Three Christian churches, along with luxury hotels, were targeted as more than 300 people were killed and more than 500 injured.
The Sri Lankan government has admitted threats had been made against Christians, but they were not properly acted on. Later, the country’s defense minister stated that the attack was in “retaliation” for the terrorist attacks against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month, when 50 Muslim worshippers were killed and another 50 were wounded.
It is ironic and hypocritical that many American Christians complain about Muslims because of the Sri Lanka attacks, yet are silent in the face of Israeli attacks against Christians and Muslims in Palestine. Furthermore, attacks against Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds have increased. The Palm Sunday attack by Daesh in Egypt last year targeted two Coptic churches, killing 47 people and injuring 100 more.
Because the Sri Lanka attacks occurred outside of the Muslim world, it gives Muslims an opportunity to speak out for the rights of Christian Arabs without appearing to be defensive or responsible. More needs to be done, however, to engage Christian Arabs, not just in a symbolic or token manner, but in a substantive way that gives them a stronger voice on Arab, Middle Eastern and even Muslim world issues.
Over the years, Muslim groups have grown in strength in the US, while secular Arab groups have weakened. A good example is the rise of many organizations with strong Muslim voices, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), to name just a few.
These groups provide powerful forums to strengthen pro-Arab activism on issues like Palestine, Syria and the US “Muslim ban.” The only flaw is that they offer only token roles to Christian voices. In contrast, many Christian or predominantly Christian Arab groups like the American Federation of Ramallah, the Midwest Federation of Syrian and Lebanese Clubs, and the Bethlehem Association focus mainly on social issues and tend to avoid political discussion and activism. They also rarely have Muslim speakers.
The challenge for Christian Arabs isn’t just their problem. Muslims also need to take it seriously to help stop the deterioration of the Christian presence in the Arab world.
Certainly, Christian Arabs need to take it upon themselves to empower their voices by becoming more fully engaged in politics and confronting challenges. The Christians do not have equivalent voices that Muslims do thanks to groups like the CAIR, AMP or ICNA. That’s why Muslims need to do more to help Christian Arabs and engage them fully in their conferences and societies.
The power of Islam in the Middle East is enormous. There are far more Muslims than Christians in the region and the Arab world, but Muslims must view Christian Arabs as equals and treat them as such. In so doing, the interests of both Muslims and Christians will be better served. It might also make it less likely that Christians will be targeted, as they were this past week in Sri Lanka.