The brutal attack on a Baghdad church by al-Qaida in Iraq last week, together with subsequent attacks this week, has prompted a renewed interest in the declining numbers of Christians in the Arab world. While some commentators have limited their views to the tragedy unfolding in Iraq, others have generalised about the doomed fate of Christians across the region.

One article in Foreign Policy went so far as to suggest the church attack might spell “the end of Christianity in the Middle East” altogether. Yet such generalisations play into the hands of radicals wanting to perpetuate the clash-of-civilisations myth. Though anti-Christian feeling may be rising on the extreme radical fringe of some Arab societies such as Iraq, this should not obscure the harmony that has long been a characteristic of other parts of the Arab world.

In Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and, most rapidly, Iraq, the Christian community is shrinking and, in places, life is becoming more uncomfortable. Attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt have risen and many complain of institutional discrimination by the state. Similarly, Christians living in Hamas-ruled Gaza complain of a lack of protection against occasional attacks by extremists.

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