Prior to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, whom it is difficult to conceive of as a force for religious liberality, there were as many as 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. In recent years, 70 churches have been attacked, nearly a thousand Christians have been murdered, and the Christian population is down to fewer than 200,000. Iraqi Catholic archbishop Bashar Warda says, “We need to bear the cross, but it is becoming heavy.” Before the beginning of the present violence in Syria, there were 80,000 Christians in the city of Homs; none remain. About 300,000 Syrian Christians have fled, an inordinate number of the country’s refugees, while Western governments, particularly that of the United States, have waffled and prevaricated.
Moammar Qaddafi is even harder to imagine as a champion of religious toleration than was Saddam Hussein, but there were about 100,000 Christians in Libya when the armed struggle to get rid of him began. The Roman Catholic bishop of Benghazi had 10,000 people in his diocese two years ago; now only a few hundred remain. Readers will recall that it was here that the U.S. ambassador and three other officials were murdered in the American consulate, and to maintain the fiction that it wasn’t a terrorist incident, but rather a spontaneous mass response to the anti-Islamist video of a religious kook in California, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came on television to assure the Muslim world that the United States had the utmost respect for Islam. It would be hard to imagine anything more skillfully conceived to incite contempt for the U.S. and the West as a whole, and to inflame Muslim religious chauvinism, than that pathetic and falsely motivated address.
Iran’s Assyrian Christian population has fallen from 100,000 in the late 1970s to 15,000 today. The only remaining Christian minister in Pakistan was assassinated in 2011. Over 200,000 Christians have fled the violence in Mali, and even in Lebanon, traditionally a half-Christian country, where to preserve that myth no census has been taken since 1932 and the real Christian share of the population is about a third, there is a steady decline. In 2009, Pope Benedict counseled his Middle Eastern coreligionists in an open-air address at Amman attended by about 40,000 people to persevere, to join with the moderates of other faiths, but to “bear witness against the desecration of women.” Israel has never persecuted Christians, although that has not prevented the Palestinian Christian leadership from often being shameless lickspittles of Arafat and his collaborators and successors, but since 1946 the population of Jerusalem has changed from 30,000 Christians, 31,000 Muslims, and 97,000 Jews to 14,000 Christians, 230,000 Muslims, and 460,000 Jews, prompting fears that Jerusalem will become a “Christian Disneyland” where Christians visit but do not reside.
Pope Benedict understood the Islamist threat and often referred to it in moderate and reasonable terms (though that did not prevent many Muslims from imagining that they could silence him by assimilating him to the Danish cartoonist — still, today, under threat for his life — who caricatured the prophet). The Roman Catholic Church, though it took an unconscionably long time to do so, has finally grasped the nature of the threat against it from Islam, but most Western governments are still appeasing the source of that threat, and the government of the United States, for its own discreditable purposes, is conducting its own, comparatively gentle war on Christianity, instead of embracing it, with all respect for secularism, ecumenism, and non-belief, as the greatest ally it has in its attempt to tame and defang aggressive Islam. Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo said on behalf of the Holy See in 2006: “Islamist countries demand religious rights for their citizens who migrate to other countries, but ignore this principle for non-Muslim immigrants in their own lands.” This hypocrisy should be forcibly discouraged.
Stalin infamously asked, “How many divisions has the pope?” The answer was, More than Stalin thought, and more than Stalin’s heirs. It is strategic folly, and a betrayal of the nature of our civilization and its history, for American and other Western leaders to attempt to defend against Muslim extremism while conducting an excruciating charade to pretend that the West is un-Christian. Fortunately, that is not true, and the Islamists should know it.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at [email protected].