Hatred of Israel Keeps Middle Eastern Christians from Visiting Their Holy Places

July 24 2019

For Middle Eastern Christians, pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and other sites in Jerusalem is a time-honored tradition. Yet most, even if they live relatively near the holy city, are unable to visit it, as Robert Nicholson writes:

The problem is Israel—or rather, that most Arab and Muslim countries consider Israel to be an illegitimate enemy state. Citizens who have even the slightest contact with it or its people are frequently punished under any number of formal bans and boycotts. Some countries like Egypt and Jordan are less hostile, looking the other way when citizens visit Jerusalem to pray. But Christians in other countries, especially those within the Iranian sphere of influence, undertake pilgrimage at their own risk. They may enter Israel without incident but will almost certainly face prosecution and detention upon their return.

Lebanon is a cause for special concern as the Middle Eastern country with the highest percentage of Christians. . . . But while [Lebanese] Sunnis and Shiites remain free to visit Mecca despite conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Christians are forbidden from visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher due to conflict with Israel. Prosecution under the 1955 Boycott Law or Article 278 of the Lebanese criminal code awaits anyone who thinks otherwise.

In October, U.S. diplomats will convene a symposium in Rome to address religious freedom, humanitarian aid, and human trafficking, among other issues of shared concern with the Holy See. They should also take the chance to issue an unequivocal statement affirming the importance of pilgrimage to people of all faiths and calling on Lebanese officials to rescind all laws and regulations that place a permanent bar on Christian visits to Jerusalem. . . . Here the engagement of Pope Francis is crucial.

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Read more at New York Post

More about: Arab anti-Semitism, Catholic Church, Lebanon, Middle East Christianity

 

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy