Exodus Is Not The Answer: Why Christianity Must Be Preserved in the Middle East

By Monday, July 17, 2017

For the second time in less than a century, people of a faith born in the land of Israel are facing genocide. But unlike the Jews after the Holocaust, there is no homeland for the Middle East’s persecuted Christians to take refuge in. They are already home—and it will take a joint effort by Christians and Muslims to preserve that home from extinction. 

More than 3.2 million Jews have immigrated to Israel since the creation of the Jewish state after World War II, including 49,000 Yemenite Jews rescued during Operation Magic Carpet in 1949. Back then, in the wake of the Holocaust, the newly created United Nations agreed that the Jewish people needed a sovereign state where they could live and thrive.

Clearly that need is still keenly felt. On March 21, 2016, seventeen Jews and a 600-year-old Torah were airlifted from Yemen as the Jewish Agency conducted its final mission of bringing Yemenite Jews home to Israel.

“This chapter in the history of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities is coming to an end,” declared agency chairman Natan Sharansky, “but Yemenite Jewry’s unique, 2,000-year-old contribution to the Jewish people will continue in the State of Israel.”

For the Middle East’s persecuted Christians, though, the path is not so clear. Once quick to protect persecuted Jews, the United Nations has not yet officially recognized or denounced ISIS’s genocide against Christians—despite declarations by the European Union, the United States, and the British Parliament early in 2016, as well as three years of evidence documenting the beheading, kidnapping, rape, torture, and mass murder of Iraqi and Syrian Christians by ISIS since 2014.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled, and while foreign governments and NGOs may offer aid and refuge, there is no sense of going home—only escape.

Even if ISIS were defeated tomorrow, institutionalized persecution would continue in countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia—nations which routinely appear on international watchlists for their harsh restrictions on religious freedom. Faithkeepers, a new documentary, estimates that the Middle East’s Christian population has dropped from 20% to 5% since 1910. Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, a well-documented book published by Hudson Institute scholars in 2013, shows that the systematic persecution of Christians because of their faith is the greatest cause of flight.

Despite restrictions on work, study, and worship—not to mention the constant threat of being killed with impunity—local religious leaders urge Christians not to emigrate.

“This Muslim Arab world needs us,” Gregory III, the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, emphasized in a 2013 address. “Let us not deprive our world of our existence, presence, and witness.”

There are no churches in Saudi Arabia: the kingdom is a go-to example of intolerance instilled in the absence of free society. An official 2011 Saudi textbook quoted in the Hudson Institute study teaches,

“The Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians.”

These are the types of textbooks ISIS adopted until it could publish its own books in 2015.

Western countries and charities have a moral obligation to help refugees, as they helped the Jews who fled the Nazis, but exporting the Middle East’s Christians wholesale is not a solution. As these ancient communities and churches disappear, the dangerous idea that Christianity is exclusive to the West only grows, and Israel, home to half the world’s remaining Jewish population, is left to temper the region’s growing hostility and defend its own existence, with only a handful of moderate Arab nations at its side.

The Center for American Progress likened the survival of Christianity to “a barometer of whether those of other faiths or no faith at all will be able to live and thrive in the future Middle East.” It’s a measurement the West should be paying close attention to.

“If one of the most important religious groups in the world continues to be forced out of the Middle East, this bodes negatively for pluralism, tolerance, and the ability of the region’s people to live interlinked with the rest of the world,” added the Center.

Some advocate for the creation of an autonomous Christian state in the Middle East. Given the decades of turmoil between Arabs and Jews since Israel’s creation, this may not be the wisest solution. And while suffering Asian and Arab Christians might be motivated to populate the new state, the world won’t see a future mass migration of Christians, as it did the Jews after 1948.

It is not unimaginable that Muslims and Christians could find a joint solution to the conflict. In May 2017, Iraqi Muslims and Christians united to rebuild the Monastery of Saint George in northern Mosul. Earlier in April, Chaldean Christians had gathered there to celebrate Easter Mass.

“God willing, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ will also mark the return and rising-up of the Christians in Iraq,” said one attendee.

At the same time, 600 Christian delegates from 130 countries and territories gathered in Washington, DC, for the first World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. They aimed to spread awareness, improve charitable aid, and find practical solutions to the global assault on Christians. Any long-term solution to persecution in the Middle East requires reform by Muslim-majority nations—not only to recognize Christian citizens, but to protect them under the law.

For Christians, the mission is to rebuild their churches on the land where they have lived for centuries. Exodus is not the answer.


Naofa Noll is part of the Philos Leadership Institute class of 2017.  She is a development associate for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based educational and human rights nonprofit. She graduated from Hillsdale College in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and a minor in Spanish.

Naofa Noll

Naofa Noll is Development Associate for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based educational and human rights nonprofit. She also serves as Vice President of the Philos Project DC Chapter. She graduated from Hillsdale College in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and a minor in Spanish. Naofa first became interested in human rights advocacy while interning with International Justice Mission in 2015. She is originally from Johnstown, PA.

  • Carmen Quesada

    Give them a sword!! Let them defend themselves 🙁