The Last Supper

Danish journalist Klaus Wivel gives an alarming account of the deteriorating human rights situation of Christians in the Middle East. Divided into four chapters, Wivel scrutinizes the fate of Christians in Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq. Originally published in 2013, the book looks into a future which presents itself worse today than most political commentators had expected back then.

“The Last Supper is a powerful argument for liberalism.” (Haaretz)

The following passage from the epilogue sums up Wivel’s observations and makes a fervent plea to Western governments:

“This book hasn’t dealt with the worst countries. Every year Open Doors, which concerns itself with persecuted Christians, compiles a list of the fifty countries where faith spawns the most dire consequences. Of the four countries my research led me to (and a fifth, Syria, which I have written about), one – Lebanon – is not even on the list. In 2016 Open Doors places the Palestinian Territories as #24, Syria as #5, and Iraq as #2.

North Korea tops the list. According to Open Doors, tens of thousands of Christians have been sent to refugee camps because of their faith. Of course I don’t need to mention that Muslim countries are far from the only ones who have mistreated minorites; we have a strong tradition of doing that in European Christian countries. Currently, however, it appears to be communist, former communist, and Muslim countries that top the ignominious list. And persecution seems to be worst in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

What should we call the treatment that these Christians are being subjected to? We know what anti-Semitism is. We also understand what racism means. The fight against these criminal mentalities has changed our part of the world. But the abuse of Christians in the Middle East belongs to the same categories as racism and anti-Semitism, and the longer the cruelty remains unnamed, the more difficult it is to do something about it. We can’t call it racism; Middle Eastern Christians aren’t a race, they speak and look like others in their societies. Xenophobia doesn’t work either, because these Christians aren’t strangers – on the contrary, they have lived there for two thousand years.

The term “Christianophobia” is being used increasingly, but I don’t care for it since it indicates a “morbid fear” of Christians. Discrimination and persecution of Christians in the Middle East is not a clinical, irrational sickness. It is not a phobia. It is a deeply-rooted judicial and administrative discrimination that Christians have been subjected to for centuries. It also comes from an educational system that for decades has avoided informing Muslim students about who these Christians really are. This is the source of the contempt that regularly evolves into violence.

While we wait for the correct term, the governments of the West – the United States, the European Union, my own native Denmark – would do well to listen to the warnings of Christians like those whose voices have been conveyed in these pages. Too many times in modern history have we ignored such voices, resulting in terrible death and destruction. Let us not make the same mistake again.”

Wivel, Klaus: The Last Supper. The Plight of Christians in Arab Lands. New York 2016, pp. 246-248.

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