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The never-ending exodus of Christians from Middle East

Was I the only one to react with a total lack of surprise to the news that Muslim Afghan soldiers are fighting Muslim Taliban fighters with a coded inscription on their rifle sights from the Bible's Book of John?

Could Holman Hunt have imagined that his Light of the World (Jesus, no less, painted in 1854) would be guiding the path of American as well as Afghan army bullets into the hearts of the Muslim Taliban? Possibly. So it turns out that another bunch of religious nutters, the makers of Trijicon rifle sights in the US, believe the inscription is “part of our faith and our belief in service to our country”.

Not since the Serbs and Lebanese Phalangists set off to massacre and rape their Muslim enemies over the past three decades with pictures of the Virgin Mary on their rifle butts has there been anything so preposterous. Indeed, 'twas I who first spotted two American M1A1 Abrams tanks parked in central Baghdad in 2003 with “Crusader 1” and “Crusader 2” painted on their barrels. Don't tell me no one in the Pentagon (or MoD, which has an order in for another 400 Trijicon sites) didn't query that weird “JN8:12” on the equipment.

No wonder then — and here's a real tragedy — that Christians are in a state of perpetual exodus from the Middle East. In Egypt, six Coptic Christians were killed at Christmas, along with a Muslim policeman, when local Muslims attacked them.

The Copts are maybe 10% of their country's 80m people but they are heading in droves for America. One problem they have is seeking official permission to build churches in Egypt — and if they get this permission, sure enough, up will pop a mosque right next door.

Courtesy of that great Bible-reader George W Bush, the Christians of post-invasion Iraq are still fleeing sectarian violence for the West.

They've been murdered and burned out of their homes. Why, even the head of the superior Islamic council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim, turned up in Beirut this week to tell the Maronite Catholic patriarch of Lebanon that he was doing “all he could” for his Iraqi Christian brothers and sisters. Algerian Islamists have just burned a Protestant church in an apartment in Tizi Ouzou.

There's not much point, of course, in looking for the last known resting place of one and a half million Christian Armenians, because they were mass-slaughtered by the Turks in 1915 — although neither Bush nor his successor will call it a genocide because they are frightened of Muslim Turkey.

But I was heartened to read a fine article by Jihad Zein in the Lebanese newspaper An Nahar last week. He believes that governments in the Muslim world have been repressing societies but — and I hope I have grasped his complex argument correctly — repressed societies are now repressing minorities.

The Zein thesis is that Middle East rulers have abandoned the idea of cultural authority in the interests of safeguarding the security of their political society.

The Fisk thesis is that minorities don't count any more.

But don't bet on it. Was it not the army of Israel which named its 1996 bombardment of Lebanon “Grapes of Wrath”, an operation which included the atrocity at Qana, when 106 Lebanese civilians were torn to bits by Israeli shells? And did not Grapes of Wrath take its name from chapter 32, verse 25 of the Book of Deuteronomy in which it is said that “the sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of grey hairs”.

All in all, a good description of the massacre at Qana.

Or of those innocent Afghan villagers torn to bits in Nato's heroic air strikes. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that DY32:25 is inscribed on Nato's bombs. Work that one out.

Belfast Telegraph