An unfolding tragedy: The decline of religious diversity in the Middle East
By Lord Alton of Liverpool
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has seen a significant decline in religious diversity in recent years. While ancient Christian communities have often suffered, practically no religious group has been safe from this ongoing tragedy, with Ahmadis, Baha’is, Jews, Yazidis and Zoroastrians all affected, as well as both Shia and Sunni Muslims. For a host of reasons, in several countries in the region, minority communities who have deep roots going back several generations are being forced to leave their ancestral lands.
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Since 2003, the numbers of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq have both dropped significantly. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have emigrated because of terrorism and sectarian violence. They will never return.
Religious minorities across the MENA region continue to be targeted with a range of violations in a host of different contexts. In more recent times this repression has been heightened by the rise of IS, leading to a dispersal of minority communities, who are often left with no alternative but to leave their homes in pursuit of refuge and acceptance elsewhere.
This is often a double-edged sword: not only has it chipped away at the existence of the rich cultural heritage of minority groups which constituted a much larger portion of the population of many Middle Eastern countries; it also has the potential to hinder the growth of the faith for current and future generations.
Such a loss of religious diversity would be devastating. Those who seek to create monochrome societies, incapable of respecting difference, must be made to understand that such intolerance undermines and impoverishes society, and is invariably a harbinger of the erosion of other freedoms and rights cherished by people of all faiths and none.