One manifestation of the troubled state of current identity politics within Muslim communities is evident in the way some elements are targeting the region’s Christian communities. While Al-Qaeda style violence might the new development in this regard, the trend itself is not that new.
Indeed, looking at the region’s Christian communities as some sort of a fifth column to western imperialism is a theme that dates back to the late 19th/early 20th centuries period, and is intimately connected to the important and visible role that Christian figures played in promoting and popularizing modern ideas, including nationalism, socialism and secularism. The fact that western powers had used the need to protect the region’s indigenous Christian communities from real, imagined and/or invented persecution as an excuse and justification for their interventionism in the region helped foster that impression, and was used by the ruling elites at the time (Ottomans, Pahlavids, etc.), to deflect attention from their own responsibility for destroying the fabric of the state their their corruption and negligence and their authoritarian ways.
Contemporary rulers in the Middle East and North Africa have fallen on the same tactic vis-a-vis democracy and human rights activists, an endeavor in which they were aided by the West’s occasional, and mostly verbal, support for the latter.
As for the Christian communities per se, they actually seem to have fared better under the rule of the ostensible “secular” regimes in Iraq and Syria, but the privileged status that the Christians were accorded under these regimes, coupled with these regime’s corruption combined to set them up as sacrificial-lambs-in-waiting, so to speak. And the moment seems to have come. Now, the region’s Christian communities are being targeted by extremist Islamist groups, and the fact that some of their leaders are willing to hearken back on the “good old days” dictatorial rule is only bound to make matters worse for them, by isolating them further from the majority groups, and helping their branding process seeing to paint them as fifth columnists and agents for the West.
Written as a comment on this NY Times article.