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Forced Exodus: Christians in the Middle East
By Roland Flamini
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In September, senior clerics from a dozen different Christian denominations all over the Middle East met in Amman, Jordan, for a conference organized by King Abdullah II. The subject was the crisis facing Christianity in the region, and what to do about it. Missing from the meeting were two prominent Arab prelates from Aleppo: Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, the city's Syriac Orthodox bishop, and Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi, his Greek Orthodox counterpart. Both had been abducted by unidentified gunmen somewhere between Aleppo and Antioch in April, and their whereabouts were still unknown. The Assad regime and the Syrian rebels predictably blamed each other for the high-profile abduction. But Turkish intelligence sources were quoted as saying that it had been the work of Islamic Chechens who operate in the opposition-held territory in northern Syria. Refugees in Jordan and Turkey have told Christian humanitarian groups that jihadist revolutionaries have declared a caliphate in areas they control and imposed sharia law, with Saudi judges brought in to administer it. (Saudi Arabia and Qatar finance the rebellion in Syria, and the West supports it--but that's another story.) Non-Muslims are only tolerated if they pay jizya, a heavy tax imposed on dhimmini, or nonbelievers, under Islamic law. Those who refuse to pay have two choices: they can quit their homes and have their property and most of their possessions confiscated, or they can face execution. Syria today is a country of blurred facts and wild rumors, but the abduction and in some cases murder of Christian clerics is real enough. The Jesuit missionary Paolo Dall'Oglio was kidnapped in July and may have been executed in al-Raqqah, a northern town said to be an al-Qaeda stronghold. Dall'Oglio, had gone to al-Raqqah in an attempt to negotiate the release of Christian hostages, relying--foolishly, as it worked out--on his reputation as an outspoken critic of the Assad regime to guarantee his safety. In June, the Franciscan priest Fran

Roland Flamini is a freelance journalist and former foreign correspondent and bureau chief for Time magazine in the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere.

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