Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Islamic extremism & Christian immigration from the ME

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/12/2010

I noticed an article on my facebook page by Abderrehman al-Rashid that summed up the doxa concerning the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Middle East: “Arab Christians and their flight from extremism” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia).
Here are the two central arguments:
1. “يعتبرون [المسيحيون العرب] أنهم يواجهون، بشكل خاص، تمييزا وحصارا من قبل الجماعات المتطرفة الإسلامية المؤدلجة والمسلحة”. [Arab Christians] consider that they face, specifically, discrimination and besiegement by ideological and armed groups of extremist islamists.
2.”والحقيقة أن حجم الاستهداف ضد المسيحيين سواء في العراق أو مصر أو السودان محدود، سواء في خطاب الجماعات المتطرفة أو في ممارساتها” “In fact, whether in Iraq, Egypt or Sudan, the targeting of Christians is rather limited in scope, be it in speech or practice”.
3. “مشكلة المواطن المسيحي العربي هي المشكلة نفسها للمواطن الآخر في حقوقه الفردية ومستقبله المجهول.. حالة عامة ليست خاصة بطائفة أو فئة،” Arab Christians face the same problems as their non-Christian compatriots, with regards to their individual rights and their unknown future. It’s a general condition that is not specific to one group or community.

The problem with this argument is that it misses the main point. It doesn’t explain why the number of christians is dwindling in the Middle East, in places to almost near extinction. It discredits one “objective” reason (specific targeting by extremist islamists), and doesn’t look into other “objective reasons” or subjective ones.

I would like to list a few reasons that I find relevant. These reasons could be divided into two categories: individual and collective. These two dimensions actually interplay with each other, and to understand the phenomenon of mass emigration, one has to look into this complex intertwining of individual and collective elements.
– Economical reason: This reason certainly hits everyone, regardless of his/her religion. But on the whole Christians are more likely to emigrate to countries in which they can integrate with a certain ease (Western Europe, the Americas, Australia), while Muslims are more likely to go to countries that don’t allow a complete integration (Africa & the Golf).
– Cultural/religious reason: Christian, on a whole, have less difficulty identifying with the west and integrating its values and cultural system. Even though there are many cultural conflicts between contemporary western values and traditional middle-eastern values that are mostly shared by Muslims and Christians alike, Christians do not perceive them necessarily as conflicting, and when they do, they don’t perceive them as necessarily “foreign”. So Christians would more likely integrate these cultural differences or the changes that they call for as “natural” or “progressive”. Moreover, Muslim Arabs can easily express their cultural difference in a globalised world. Christians Arabs have not been able to do that. Their cultural production is limited in its scope and its expression.
– National/political reason: With the end of the “age of ideologies”, the Arabist project faded off and Arab countries have reaffirmed their muslim character. This leaves Christians in an uncomfortable situation in which they cannot easily project a collective destiny (as christians) within a hybrid secular/muslim state.
– Structural reason: Individual can count on a strong diaspora that could help him/her travel, find a job abroad, and regularise his/her situation.


2 Responses to “Islamic extremism & Christian immigration from the ME”

  1. Doc said

    It is a sad reality that Christians are leaving their homeland in larger relative droves than most others. I woulod add another reason to the ones tht you mentioned. Christian countries have been somewhat selective in accepting immigrants, to a larger degree accepting Christians more easily than they would Muslims. And then we have the remnants of colonialism. How many Maronites in Lebanon, for example, don’t have a French passport? I can only assume that the number is quite high, making it easy for them to start a life in France. Another reason, that I come to think of whilst writing, is demographics. Christians used to make up more than todays 10 percent of the population in Syria, or more than todays few procent in Bethlehem, or Ramallah. Their dwindling numbers can not only be attributed to emigration, but also to them having fewer children. Over the course of a few years this will not change much, but over the course of a few generations this change is very much noticed. The last reason that I will give is slightly more speculative. I speculate that Christian women in the Arab world to larger degree than their Muslim counterparts marry non-Arab men. Since citizenship follows the male, and since it is almost impossible for non-arabs to acquire citizenship in an Arab country, the offsrping of a Christian Arab woman will to a larger degree not be allowed to have the citizenship of their mother.

    Actually all of these stated reasons have a common root cause: discrimation. It is discrimination to easier allow for Christian immigration to your country. It is discrimination (of a sort) for the French, for example, to have had these close bonds with a Christian population in the Levant. It is discrimation, again of a sort, that leads to the higher birth rates of the Muslim population compared to the Christian ditto. And of course it is discrimation that women are not allowed to pass on their citizenship to their offspring. Voilà!

  2. K said

    hmmm…..for some reason I don’t believe that christian women marry non arab men more than muslim women do…even if they do it at a higher rate; the arab muslim women that marry foreign men would be higher by sheer numbers than that of their christian counterparts…but who knows? interesting comment and post thank you…..

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