The Plight of the Middle East's Christians

By Jeffrey Goldberg

I've been struck over the past couple of days by the lackadaisical coverage of what seems to be the most important story coming out of the Middle East right now -- the terrible attack early on New Year's Day on a Coptic church in Egypt, in which 21 Christians were killed, and 79 people, mostly Christian, were injured. The attack, it seems, came from either domestic Egyptian Muslim extremists, or foreign, al Qaeda-influenced terrorists, but the meaning is mainly the same, no matter the exact perpetrator: The Salafist war on Christians in the Middle East is intensifying fairly rapidly, with profound consequences not only for Christians in the lands of their faith's earliest history (keep in mind that Christianity had planted itself in Egypt well before the birth of Muhammad) but for the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities in the greater Middle East.

The relative dearth of coverage might have to do with holiday understaffing at news outlets, or it might not: I'm not one to generally go after news organizations for overemphasizing the troubles of Christians in Israel (who, don't, in fact, have many troubles) and underplaying the near-genocidal campaign of Muslim extremists against Christians in places like Egypt and Iraq, but this attack seems like a watershed moment, and not only for Egypt, which is entering a long and dangerous moment as it changes leadership. One way to think about the Muslim Arab Middle East is as a place historically intolerant of the rights of non-Arab Muslim minorities: The blacks of Sudan, who are trying to break free of Khartoum's hold; the Kurds in Iraq and Syria; Christians in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq; and the Jews of Israel, among others. In Saudi Arabia, of course, it is illegal even to build a church, and I'm afraid it will soon be illegal to build one in Iraq. And take note, by the way, where Iraqi Christians run to, when they run -- for the protective embrace of another Middle East minority (just as Sudanese Christians have been running to Israel in large numbers):

An Oct. 31 siege on a Baghdad church that killed at least 58 parishioners and staff members sparked a new Christian exodus from the Iraqi capital and the northern city of Mosul. About 1,000 families sought refuge in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish enclave afterward, according to the United Nations.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/the-plight-of-the-middle-easts-christians/68758/