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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Damian Thompson on Syria


"Radical Islam revives an ancient hatred - Damian Thompson in Saturday's Daily Telegraph


Is a new and shocking wave of anti-Semitism engulfing the Middle East and the developing world? Consider the following: More than half the Jews in Iraq have been driven out of the country; those that remain are forced to pay a fine or leave their homes. Some are forced to marry Muslims.


In Syria, towns and villages where Jews have lived for centuries are now almost entirely Muslim; these communities have fled to safer parts of the country, where they hope to escape an anti-Semitic massacre.

In Egypt, the new regime is surreptitiously encouraging attacks on synagogues; the Jews, despised for their supposed wealth, fear that the “Arab spring” is about to release centuries of pent-up anti-Semitic hatred.


In Nigeria, Jews have been attacked and killed while studying scripture. In Bangladesh, Jewish children are being forced into madrassas. In Pakistan, the body of an 11-year-old Jewish boy was discovered this week; he’d been tortured to death and his lips sliced off.

You won’t have heard about this atrocious persecution. That’s because – forgive me – I’ve played one of the oldest tricks in the journalist’s book. For Jews, read Christians. For anti-Semitic, read anti-Christian. For synagogues read churches.


I hope Jewish readers won’t take offence: I’m not denying that actual anti-Semitism is spreading like a virus throughout Arab societies. It’s just that, if these attacks against Christians were being directed against Jews, the precedent of the Holocaust would shock the world into action.


This new persecution is the result of the simultaneous revival of militant Islam in many countries. We can say that with confidence. What we can’t say, however, is that there is a co-ordinated Islamic plot to exterminate Christianity as a stepping stone to a universal caliphate.


Conspiracy theorists may derive emotional satisfaction from this idea, but it doesn’t correspond to the messy politics of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Also, it lets the “Christian” West off the hook.


We have to confront the awkward fact that, for decades, some of the world’s most despicable dictators have protected indigenous Christians from Islamic mobs. When the West withdraws its support from these rulers, Christian minorities are exposed as never before.

The removal of Saddam has eviscerated Iraqi Christian churches so ancient that they still worship in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The fall of Mubarak means that it’s open season on Copts. Those who can afford to do so may follow the example of Palestinian and Lebanese Christians and emigrate. A key statistic: 100 years ago, the Levant was 20 per cent Christian; now the figure is 5 per cent.


The British government, despite prodding by the heroic Lord Alton, is doing a good imitation of not giving a stuff about any of this. Maybe it’s guilt: Anglo-American policies helped liberate Islamism.


As for Western Christianity, some evangelical and Catholic campaigners are drawing attention to the persecution – but they’re undermined by colleagues. For many evangelicals, Iraqi or Syrian worshippers are not “real” Christians because they venerate icons. Lefty Catholics are too obsessed with climate change and benefit cuts to spare a thought for their martyred co-religionists.


Keep an eye on Syria after Assad goes. First they’ll come for the Alawites, then the Christians. There’s a real chance that all traces of Christianity will disappear from the very place where St Paul was knocked off his horse and blinded by a vision of the risen Christ. What a horrible piece of symmetry
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