How to Save the Christians of the Middle East

01/05/2011 02:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Begin with the presidential? Strauss-Kahn, far and away the best candidate? Fabius, who might come to the fore by default? The great cadaver, that, in the absence of desire or capacity to change, one will have to try to resuscitate?

Start afresh this new year with the Sakineh affair and the cynicism of the judge-cops who multiply the sideshows, the orchestrated false confessions they intend to present as progress in the passage from death by stoning to hanging?

Expatiate upon the double accusation of a small group of the extreme right and a former journalist of Le Monde diplomatique (incidentally and, as promised, the copy of the erratum published on Le Point's Internet site the same day as the article read: "An error slipped into this column; when I mentioned the protagonists of the new axis between Secular Ripost and the Bloc identitaire, I was referring to Pierre Cassen, not Bernard Cassen.")?

I would much prefer to come back to what appears to me to be the most enormous event, the one most fraught with tragic consequences, of this beginning of the year 2011, the attack that, on New Year's Eve, took the lives of 21 people and wounded 79 more among the faithful of the church of Al Kidissine in Alexandria.

First of all, this attack occurred in the midst of a series of attacks that brought bloodshed to the Philippines and to Nigeria at Christmas. It happened at the end of a year marked by the carnage at the cathedral of Baghdad, among others. Consequently, it is less and less disputable that, here, we are in the presence of what can actually and accurately be termed mass persecution. Hard to imagine, since we are dealing with a religion that has long been dominant, even dominating and intolerant? Perhaps. And yet it's true. And Benedict XVI has every reason to say that Christians today, on a planetary scale, are the religious group "exposed to the greatest amount of persecution."

This attack, like all the others, was aimed at a community whose history, it can never be repeated enough, blends with that of the region. This wave of terrorist acts is decimating Churches which, for a long time, represented the religion of the majority (the Copts of Egypt), or in any case were established before the appearance of Islam (as in Syria). And so those who commit such acts are not only barbarians, but also imbeciles in their stated intent to eradicate "division" in Islamic lands by attacking what is actually the soul of the region. Would the cost be as great if the Christians of the Middle East were not this native minority? Of course. But this is an aggravating circumstance, one which adds, let us say, a metaphysical dimension to the act. An irreparable crime was committed when the Arab world got rid of its Jews and of their memory. Suppose it should be deprived of its Christians, imagine it should submit the last Catholic communities capable of praying in the very language of Christ to the same treatment the descendants of the tribes of Israel were subjected to. It would be, not only for the Arab world, but for the entire world, a dead loss, a new spiritual and moral collapse, and a new disaster in terms of both civilization and culture.

What it amounts to, in this affair, is Islam at the crossroads of its destiny. Either they remain obstinately in a state of denial and doublespeak, continuing, like Mubarak's police, to refer to "isolated acts," they persist, like Mubarak himself, in perceiving these bloodbaths as violence directed not at "a particular community" but at "the whole country." They exonerate the guilty or, like Ahmed al Tayeb, the grand imam of Al Azhar, denounce the "pope's point of view [sic]" as intolerable "interference" when he pleads for an end to the massacre of innocents. This, then, is the path to catastrophe for all. Or else, the alternative is the predominance of courage, Muslim intellectuals abandon their terrible and deafening silence. Imams take a strong stand. The Conseil français du culte musulman set the example when, on the morning of Jan. 1, it unequivocally condemned the "barbarism" of this "abject terrorist attack." What I called, in my last column, "the honor of Muslims" finally prevails, and then we may have a real chance to avoid the clash of cultures that some hope for but which must at all costs be warded off.

As for the others, all the others, what must they do?

Not fall into the trap, first of all, of false equivalents: "You don't want any churches? We don't want any more mosques." The role of democratic peoples is to try to raise others above themselves, never to stoop to the worst of their baseness.

Not to give in either to the eternal arguments of the craven. "Careful, don't do too much. If you defend these people, you're pointing them out. In pointing them out, you're exposing them." Those who are familiar with the history of the Jewish people know that "keeping a low profile" never protected anyone and, quite the opposite, always opens the way for the cut-throats.

On the contrary, we have to speak. And to go on speaking. Testify. Express indignation. And even, when one can, pray. Yes. Why not, in fact, and since, after all, that is what it is all about, an ecumenical prayer that would appeal, with one sole voice, to the authorities of all three religions of the Book? Why not a world Day for Middle Eastern Christians and, during that day, an hour when people the world over would be invited to join the persecuted, in prayer or in thought? Personally, I would be among them and, in this instance, would make an exception to my principle of agnosticism.