A new report from a Christian human rights group details how Iran’s hardline Islamic regime and its foreign military proxies have largely driven out Christian communities in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen in what is termed an “invisible jihad” hardly noticed on the world stage.
“Driven by the neo-Shia quiet Jihad vision, Iran’s proxy militias have diminished much of the Christian population from the territories under their control without most of the world noticing,” says the report from the Philos Project, titled “The Invisible Jihad: the Treatment of Christians by Iran Proxies.”
Through hardline Shia theology, strict social rules of dress and lifestyle, economic and social abuses—and often more violent means such as kidnappings, torture, sexual abuse, robberies and even murder—Christians have been forced to flee Middle East countries. The Iranian proxy militias have been bent on implementing the Shia vision of Islamic purity, the Philos Project says.
The project to purge Christians and Jews began in Iran under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and has been executed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and its elite Quds Force through its foreign proxy regimes. The report alleges that Iran’s Islamic hardliners were inspired by “the coerced mass exodus of Jews from Muslim countries during WWII. Their new motto was ‘First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.’”
Among the report’s findings:
• In Lebanon, following the rise of the Shia terrorist group Hezbollah in the 1980s and ’90s, the Christian population has declined precipitously. In the 1950s, Lebanese Christians comprised 54% of the population, with Shia and Sunni Muslims making up around 44%. In 2020, Christians were only 33.7% of the population, mostly attributed to Hezbollah policies to eradicate Christian identity. The report notes the 2002 murder of a Christian missionary from Operation Mobilization in Lebanon.
• In Iraq, the U.S. invasion in 2003 provided a platform for Iranian-backed Shia militias to gain influence. That influence waned as ISIS gained prominence. But after ISIS lost control in 2017, the Iranian proxy Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have continued what al-Qaida and later ISIS did in running Christians from the country. According to a 1987 census, there were 1.5 million Iraqi Christians. The Philos Project says that number has plummeted to 141,000 Christians.
• Syria, a nation with a rich Christian history, is central to “Tehran’s long-term goal of dominating the Middle East” and geographically strategic in Iran’s plan to counter Israel, according to the report. Since 2011, and during the bloody Syrian civil war that ensued, Iran’s hold on the Syrian military has increased, driving Christians out en masse. In 2011, Christians made up 10.5% (2.3 million) of Syria’s population. Today, the number of Christians has decreased by 70%.
• In Yemen, the Houthi regime, backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, seized control of much of the country in 2015, turning it into a “Lebanon of the South” in the Arabian Peninsula. The severe persecution has turned an estimated 40,000 Yemeni Christians—mostly Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and converts known as Muslim background believers—into a small, 3,000-member group of holdouts, according to the report. Through killings, kidnappings, detentions and attacks on property, the Houthis have nearly eradicated the Christian presence.
“Iran’s systematic program of invisible Jihad has never been recognized, let alone challenged,” Philos Project says. “Religious pluralism is at the core of human rights pioneered by Western democracies. Iran has already undermined the international order in many ways. Failure to respond to its Jihad targeting Christians is a blow to accepted norms of relations among people of different faiths.”
The report urges five action points:
- Disseminate the study among government officials, human rights groups, and media to raise awareness of Iran and its proxies in eradicating Middle East Christians.
- Urge the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur to report on Iran’s “quiet Jihad” project.
- Urge the U.S. State Department to sanction Iran and its proxies for their actions.
- Urge the U.S. State Department to sanction Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders for their part in the systematic purging of Christians communities.
- Urge international bodies and Christian charities to bring aid to Christian communities struggling to rebuild.
Above: Christians attend Easter worship services near Mosul, Iraq in 2021.
Photo: ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy