In the 1990s, western democracies stepped forward to stop ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia by dispatching NATO forces in support of UN peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.
The disintegration of Yugoslavia precipitated ethnic strife, and like all such struggles anywhere in the world, the Balkan conflict was complex and layered with history of grievances, identity politics, and religious bigotry. If one reaches back to the early years of the last century, this region was a cauldron of ethno-nationalism that ignited the First World War.
Some 16 years later, the so-called Arab Spring mirrors the conflict that ripped through the Balkans.
The rotten structures of Arab states were primed to crash once the people set aside their fear of despots. But not unlike the Balkans, the death knell of Arab dictatorships has been accompanied by predictable conflicts among people divided by religion, sect and ethnicity.
There is one stark difference, however, between the Balkans and the situation in the Arab-Muslim world. In the Balkans, the minority most seriously hurt by the conflict were Bosnian Muslims.
It was in part to protect Bosnian Muslims that the West intervened with force and, eventually overseen by President Clinton’s administration, the parties agreed to abide by the Dayton Agreement of November 1995 reached in Dayton, Ohio and formally signed in Paris a few weeks later.
In the Arab-Muslim world, the so–called Arab Spring has hurt most seriously the dwindling Christian minorities of the Middle East. While Arab despots in the name of secularism paradoxically provided some protection to Christians, the situation has worsened with Islamists taking power.
William Dalrymple, the well-respected historian and author of From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1998), recently wrote, “Wherever you go in the Middle East today, you see the Arab Spring rapidly turning into the Christian winter … The past few years have been catastrophic for the region’s beleaguered 14 million strong Christian minority.”
The decline, probably disappearance, of Christians from the Middle East is an ominous sign of a tragic future for the region.
And such an eventuality has precedence.
Jews of the Arab-Muslim world from the pre-Christian era, with their rich heritage and long historical presence in ancient cities across the region — Alexandria, Algiers, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Constantine, Damascus, Fez, Oran, Sana’a, Tripoli, Tunis and more — were compelled to leave lands conquered by Arabs in the name of Islam following the establishment of Israel in 1948.
There have been numerous anti-Coptic riots with attacks on Christian churches in Egypt. From Gaza reports have come of forced conversions among Christians reduced to a miniscule presence.
Iraqi Christians fled in large numbers following post-Saddam sectarian strife, and they found refuge in Syria.
This safe-haven for Iraqi Christians is in jeopardy as the sectarian conflict in Syria has intensified, and Syrian Christians are endangered.
While Christians flee from their ancient homes in the Arab-Muslim world, the West’s failure to respond effectively, unlike its response in the Balkans, is more than an immense moral failure.
It is another sign of the West scandalously appeasing Islamist totalitarianism that might well be as catastrophic as when Europe’s major democracies appeased Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s.