Arab Christians: ‘Convert, Pay, Die’ or Flee

If Muslims can build mosques in Christian lands, Christians should be able to build churches in Muslim lands.

arab-christians-islamSigns point to what seems to be the birth of a Nazi-like state (“Islamic State” or Caliphate) in parts of Iraq and Syria. Like the Nazis, the operatives of the newly declared “Islamic State” began to identify their targets, especially Christians, but women and other religious minorities as well.

Like the yellow Star of David that Jews were forced to wear so they could be identified, rounded up and shipped to death chambers, the ISIS painted the Arabic letter “N” (standing for Nasara or Christians) on Christians’ homes and gave them an ultimatum: pay Jizyah, convert to Islam or face death.

When faced with the ultimatum of choosing among converting and accepting a slavery-like status under Shariah law, paying Jizyah (heavy fines) to be allowed to stay in their countries, albeit as second class  citizens, or being slaughtered by their new Muslim fanatic rulers, the Arab Christians wretchedly opted to flee their homelands.

Purging the Arab world of its small, but vivacious, highly educated, socially advanced, politically progressive, religiously tolerant and industrious Christian communities is not new. Scapegoating Arab Christians has been going on since Islam was established 14 and a half centuries ago despite the fact that Islam is the youngest major religion in that beleaguered region and in the world.

Christians represent moderation, civil society, academic and intellectual freedom, work ethics and a democratic lifestyle for which most Muslim Arabs yearn, but denied them by their anti-human development and adamantly anti-pluralistic regimes. While the Arab regimes don’t particularly like what the Christians represent, they tolerate them because the minority Christian communities provide an economic engine which helps keep their respective societies afloat, for which the regimes take credit.

In turn, due to the hostile and intolerant environments in which they live, the Christians have no choice but to support the absolute regimes in power as the only force that can protect them.  However, the Christians’ support for the Arab dictators is perceived by opposition groups as part of the regimes’ repression.

Intolerant groups like ISIS (whose main objective is to overthrow their mentors, the tyrannical Arab regimes, and install their own absolute theocracies) target Christians mostly because of their belief and values, and force them to flee their homelands which their communities inhabited long before Islam was established. Despite the Arab Muslim majority’s bigotry and indignation against Christians, purging them from the Middle East is a blow to the oppressed Arab populations, especially women and religious minorities.

Instead of looking the other way or in some cases celebrating the vicious attacks on Arab Christians, all Muslim Arabs ought to embrace and defend their Arab Christian compatriots. The majority of Arab Muslim populations benefit immensely from having strong and vibrant Christian enclaves amongst them, as exemplified by the advanced and prosperous Christian community in Lebanon, the most advanced and democratic Arab country.

However, due to centuries of religious indoctrination against non-Muslims, re-enforced by their political, religious and educational institutions, Muslim Arabs may find it difficult to overcome their anti-Christians prejudices. From an early age, Muslim Arabs are trained to believe that their religion is superior to all others. Such indoctrination is continually trumpeted by media, prominent Muslim scholars and heads of state like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (the birth place of Islam and home to its holiest shrines) who claimed that “People have no direction and are rebelling against their inner selves.

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Only Islam’s mercy, light and guidance can provide people with a way forward in life and toward the Hereafter. Islam, with its comprehensive divine values and a balanced view of life, is alone capable of rescuing humankind from its current behavioral predicament while safeguarding its material gains and wishes.”

Notwithstanding the difficulty of casting off such lifelong indoctrination, Arab Muslims owe it to themselves, their children, their safety and economic prosperity to reject religious bigotry which not only condemns non-Muslim beliefs and lifestyles, but prevents Arab Muslims from emulating the Christian West’s unparalleled contributions to the world’s modern civilization from which Muslims (Arabs and others) benefit immeasurably.

Tragically, it’s not only Muslim Arabs who are failing to defend their own Christian compatriots, but Christian societies and their governments worldwide (with the exception of France) seem to be oblivious to the suffering of Arab Christians.

It’s commendable that western democracies defend the rights of Muslims and other religious minorities in their countries not only to practice their faiths freely, but to ensure their full rights as equal citizens. Why are they not demanding the same rights for Christians in Arab countries?

President Barack Obama defended the rights of Muslims to build a mosque next to Ground Zero, but he has yet to unequivocally and unabashedly demand protection for Arab Christians. Most US media outlets, government officials and churches have yet to speak up against the plight of Arab Christians, let alone call on their governments to intervene to prevent destruction of entire Christian communities in the Arab World. The same laissez-faire attitude seems to be gripping most of Christian Europe.

Christian leaders, church goers, directors of religious think tanks and visual media can help highlight the plight of their brothers and sisters in faith in the Arab world. They should be demonstrating day and night in front of Arab and other Muslim embassies, businesses and in front of American universities that teach Islamic studies across America. They should demand reciprocities; if Muslims can build mosques in Christian lands, Christians should be able to build churches in Muslim lands.

One can only imagine what would occur if the persecution and purging of Christians in the Middle East happened to Muslims in the West. The Western mainstream media, civil society, members of Congress, Washington think tanks, many Christian leaders and human rights groups would be all over themselves accusing everyone of being Islamophobic.

Why are Arab Christian lives, beliefs, religious sanctuaries and properties expendable in the Arab world without triggering outrage from human rights groups and punitive reaction from Western governments? Is it because Arab Christians are ethnically Arabs, therefore their lives, security, dignity and aspirations are unworthy of Western Christians’ and their governments’ defense? Or is it an extension of the West’s appeasement and apologetic policies toward intolerant and absolute Arab and Muslim regimes?

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Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountabilityRead other articles by Ali.