In explaining his staunch support for Israel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper frequently cites the lessons of history: that those who make Jews “a target of racial and religious bigotry will inevitably be a threat to all of us.” The truth of that statement is visible throughout the Islamic world today, where countries that first got rid of their Jews are now turning in vicious fury on their Christians. Yet many Christian churches seem blind to the connection.
Christianity is currently the world’s most persecuted religion, and the heart of that persecution is the Islamic world. Churches have been attacked in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, among other countries; Christian ministers have been assassinated; and thousands of ordinary Christians have been killed. In Iraq, fewer than 500,000 Christians are thought to remain, down from 800,000 to 1.4 million a decade earlier (estimates vary widely). In Egypt, about 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled just in the last few months. This isn’t a new development; scholars estimate that “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century.” But it has accelerated greatly in recent years.
There’s a clear line running from the disappearance of the Islamic world’s Jews in the mid-20th century to today’s accelerated persecution of Christians. When these Jewish communities still existed, they were the favorite target on which enraged Muslim mobs could vent their fury: See, for instance, the pogroms in Baghdad, Cairo and Tripoli in the 1940s. But in the years after Israel’s establishment in 1948, all these Jewish communities either were driven out or fled.
For a while, the Jews of Israel served as a substitute: Arab regimes launched three full-scale wars against Israel, provided bases and funding for Palestinian terrorists, whipped up anti-Israel sentiment through state-owned media, and encouraged anti-Israel demonstrations, thereby channeling popular discontent away from themselves. But while anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) outbursts are still common in Arab countries, Israel’s insistence on growing and thriving despite these efforts made it an unsatisfactory target for mobs who actually wanted to see their victims suffer.
So, stymied on the Jewish front, they increasingly turned to the next target on their list, which had the advantage of being nearby and vulnerable. As the old Islamic taunt puts it, “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.”
Yet rather than understand, as Harper has, that the same religious intolerance and dysfunctional political culture is behind both anti-Israel sentiment and the persecution of Christians–and that consequently, if Israel disappeared tomorrow, this victory would only provide a tailwind for the war against the “Sunday people”–many Christian churches seem to think the solution is to win the Muslim world’s love by joining the anti-Israel onslaught: See, for instance, the disgraceful report published by the Church of Scotland earlier this month, which said that Christians shouldn’t support Jewish claims to the Land of Israel on either biblical grounds or “as a compensation for the suffering of the Holocaust”; a similar document issued by a Catholic bishops’ synod; or the Presbyterian Church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network, which has pushed resolutions equating Israel with apartheid and vocally supports the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement.
The truth is that Muslim persecution of Christians won’t end until the Islamic world abandons the fantasy that others–whether it’s Israel, Christians or the West–are at the root of their problems. Yet by adopting the Muslim habit of blaming Israel for all the region’s ills, Christian churches are actively feeding that fantasy. And they are thereby ultimately encouraging their own coreligionists’ persecution.