For three years, the Arab revolutions cast “Palestine” and Palestinians to the fringe of memory in the Middle East. And now the new bloodbath in Gaza has pushed to the corner of our consciousness the continuing tragedy of the Christian exodus.As the Christians of Mosul fled their cruel, new “Sunni Caliphate”, photographs of the city’s Syriac-Catholic church, fire blazing from its windows, only made inside pages in the Middle East press.
That two of the world’s most-hated, born-again Christians – George W Bush is one and the other, a British citizen, is unmentionable – should have destroyed one of the oldest Christian communities in the lands of Christ, remains a most brutally ironic testament to their folly.Both, of course, would no more acknowledge this today than the Christians of the Middle East can ignore it.
And inevitably, the Christians in the great cities lying between the Tigris and the Mediterranean are asking why no Muslims are condemning their tragedy.“What are the moderate Muslims saying?” the Lebanese Catholic Maronite Patriarch, Bechara Rai, asked acidly last week. “We do not hear the voices of those who denounce this.”
Indeed not. The Caliphate’s threat to the Christians – convert, be taxed or die – contradict, in the words of the Chaldean Patriarch, Archbishop Louis Sako, “1,400 years of history and of the life of the Muslim world and of coexistence between different religions and different peoples”. Archbishop Sako spoke, too, this week of how Iraq itself had become a “humanitarian, cultural and historical catastrophe”. But he added that Christians in the region must remember that the Koran demands respect for minorities and that the Christian people must also remain respectful to Muslims and show “patience and endurance”. Which, I would have thought, might be turning the other saintly cheek a bit too far.But of course, the new Caliph of Mosul has applied restrictions to all Shia Muslims as well as the Yezidis, the Sabeans and the Turkomens. And there have been street demonstrations in Beirut just last week – jointly, by Muslims and Christians – to both condemn the treatment of the Christians of Mosul and the Palestinians of Gaza.