May 9, 2012:
Israel, in particular, and Christians, in general, are concerned with the plunging Christian population in the Christian holy places of the Middle East, especially places like Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Bethlehem, which for centuries was largely Christian (Arab Christians for the most part), is now only 15 percent Christian. When Israel was founded in 1948, Jerusalem was 15 percent Christian, now it is only 1.5 percent Christian. The decline is not just in the traditional Christian holy places but throughout the Middle East and Moslem countries in general. This is all the result of long standing Islamic disdain for other religions. During the last century that disdain has increasingly turned to violence and outright hatred. Most Christians, and other religious minorities, fled to the West, often the United States. Until recently most Arab-Americans were Christian.
Iraq is another example. Before Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Now there are fewer than 400,000. Many were expelled by Islamic fanatics because they were not Moslem but there was also Iraqi Moslem hatred of Christians because they were supporters of Saddam. Religious and ethnic minorities are often recruited by tyrants, or foreign invaders, to prop up a dictatorship or colonial rule. When the British took over Iraq, from the Moslem Turks, in the 1920s, they trusted the local Christians (and other religious minorities) more than the majority of Moslems for security chores and government jobs in general. The Turks did the same thing but to a lesser extent because the local Christians were also Arabs, and all Arabs resented centuries of rule by the alien Turks. But Iraqis also hated the fellow Moslems (mainly the four million strong Sunni Arab minority) who supported the Turks and later Sunni Arab dictators like Saddam.
Alas, throughout the Moslem world there is an ancient antipathy against non-Moslems or Moslems who are different than you. The infidels (non-Moslems) are seen as potentially disloyal, and what happened in Iraq over the last century just confirms that attitude. Currently you find Moslems attacking Buddhists in Thailand, Jews everywhere, Baha'is in Iran, and Christians in Egypt, Iraq, the Philippines, Pakistan, Malaysia, and elsewhere. This is not a sudden and unexpected outburst of Moslem violence against non-Moslems. It is normal and at the root of Islamic terrorism. While this violent behavior represents only a small number of Moslems, it is a large minority (from a few percent of a population to over half, according to opinion polls). Moreover, the majority of Moslems has not been willing, or able, to confront and suppress the Islamic radicals that not only spread death and destruction but also besmirch all Moslems. This reveals a fundamental problem in the Islamic world, the belief that combining righteousness with murderous tactics is often the road to power and spiritual salvation. Throughout history when these tactics were applied to non-Moslems they often failed. The non-Moslems were unfazed by the religious angle and, especially in the last five hundred years, were better able to defeat Islamic violence with even greater violence. Thus, until quite recently, the Moslems fought among themselves and left the infidels (non-Moslems) out. But after World War II that began to change.
During the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, Christian and Moslem Arabs fought bitterly over political, cultural, and, ultimately, religious differences. Few realized it at the time but this war was but the first of many between Christians and Moslems in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Many of the earliest Moslem converts were Christians. And many of those that Moslem armies unsuccessfully sought to conquer were Christian. The original Crusades, which modern Moslems portray as Western aggression, were actually a Western attempt to rescue Middle Eastern Christians from increasing Islamic terrorism and violence. But Islam as a political force was in decline for several centuries until the 1970s. Then things changed and they continue to change. Fueled by oil wealth and access to Western weapons and technology, Islamic radicals saw new opportunities. Islam was again on the march and few have noticed the many places it was turning into religious war with Christians and other non-Moslems.
The Middle East still contains many non-Moslems. None have their own country, except for Israel. But Egypt contains five million Copts, native Christians who did not convert to Islam. Similar small Christian communities exist throughout the Middle East, and growing hostility from Moslem neighbors cause many to migrate or get killed.
Moslems also have turned their righteous wrath on dissident Moslem sects. The Druze and Alawites are considered by many Moslems as pagans pretending to be Moslems. Similarly, the Shias of Iran and neighboring areas are considered less orthodox, not just for their admitted differences but because many adherents openly practice customs of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion. These differences are less frequently overlooked today. To survive the many Druze have allied themselves with Israel, and most of the current Syrian leadership are Alawites who pretend to be more Shia than they really are.
Radicals throughout the Moslem world continue to take advantage of dissatisfaction among the people and recruit terrorists and supporters. To help this process along they invoke the ancient grudges popular among many Moslems. Most of these legends involve Christians beating on Moslems. To most radicals it makes sense to get people agitated over faraway foreigners rather than some strongman nearby.
Most radicals lack the skills, money, or ability to carry their struggle to far-off places. So most of the agitation takes place among Moslem populations. Any violent attitudes generated are easily directed at available non-Moslems. The more violence you generate, the more really fanatical fighters are developed. These are the people who are willing to travel to foreign lands and deal with non-believers and kill them for the cause. We call it terrorism; the fanatics call it doing what has to be done, defending Islam with jihad.
Not surprisingly Moslems get motivated to do something about Islamic radicalism when the violence comes to their neighborhoods. That's why terror attacks in the West are so popular. The infidels are being attacked without any risk to those living in Moslem countries. Iraq changed all that and during the course of that war (2004-7) the popularity of Islamic terrorism, in Moslem countries, declined sharply because the terrorists were killing so many Moslems. That, in the end, is what has killed, for a while, most Islamic terrorism in Iraq. But this time around it would be nice if the Moslem world got their act together and expunged this malevolent tendency once and for all.