Thursday, June 01, 2006

Are Iraqi Christians Canaries in a Coal Mine?

(Just in time for Memorial Day Dr. Leon Hadar put together an excellent post that has stuck in my mind for a week, now. I wanted to link to it at the time, but didn't want to launch yet another negative piece about war so close to the national holiday. My holiday post was an attempt to show respect for warriors and prompt reflective thoughts about the idea of war -- not just one war, but wars generally. I didn't note much in the way of national reflections, but I did my part anyway.)

Syria: The Promised Land? is the post title, noting how Syria seems to have morphed from one of the dark players on the battlefield for "hearts and minds" into a more benign entity, easing into a less odious role as a repository for Iraqi refugees. Dr. Hadar accurately uses the word refugees. That's what we call those fleeing a place so threatening to their life and safety they feel compelled to relocate. Syria observer Josh Landis makes the point in two different papers, and Lawrence Kaplan, writing in New Republic, mentioned that Christians have become part of the exodus.

I can't fault him for this acid observation:

So...Let's see... We "liberated" Iraq in order to transform it into a model of political and economic freedom that could bring about similar changes in neighboring Syria which was (at one point) targeted for "regime change" by the Bush Administration. And now... members of Iraq's middle class and Christian communities, the most westernized, educated and professional segments of Iraq's population are fleeing to... Syria? All of which gives a new meaning to "Mission Accomplished."


All of this is to point to Hadar's article Measuring the Arab World: Check the Christian Barometer. After noting that Christian communities have been living in the country for centuries, thanks to the blooming of what passes for "democracy" they are now the object of persecution that they are leaving their homes for other, safer destinations. This exodus is more than a footnote to a larger theme. It is, in fact, an indicator that the larger theme may be aking a very different direction from what was expected.
No matter how one approaches the issue, assessing movement towards reform in the Middle East by considering just free elections, market reforms or even the adoption of constitutions and bills of rights does not provide a full picture. After all, these steps amount mostly to political and legal arrangements — and could be swiftly reversed by a new government.

So here is my idea: Why don't we measure progress towards freedom in the Middle East focusing on the status of an integral element of the region's political and social-demographic environment — its large Christian minorities?

Most of these people are highly educated and multilingual, have studied and worked in the Europe and North America — where they also have a large diaspora. The Christians of the Middle East also tend to be more secular and liberal than the surrounding Muslim majority.

To put it differently, common sense — backed by statistical and anecdotal evidence — provides you with this surprising but dependable rule of thumb.

As the Middle East becomes more free and prosperous, linked to the west and hospitable to minorities and women, the higher is the probability that the Christians will continue to live in and even return from abroad to countries like Lebanon, Egypt or Syria.

And vice versa, if the Christians sense that things are getting worse, that the Arab country they live in is losing its commitment to political, economic and religious freedom, they would tend emigrate from the Middle East.

This is a provocative and inciteful article. Dr. Hadar is onto something.

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