"There are 12 million Christians in the Middle East. If the current trend continues, there will be fewer than 6 million by 2025," says Hilal Khashan, political science chair at the American University of Beirut. Christians have been a traditional bridge between the mainly Muslim Middle East and the largely Christian West. Without them, says Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Center for Religious Freedom, "we'll see greater Islamization of the people who stay behind." Throughout the Middle East, Christians complain that they are in the worst of all worlds - viewed as outsiders by Islamists but held in suspicion as Arabs by the West. In the Palestinian territories, Christians who once made up more than 7% of the Arab population now account for less than 2%, according to a recent survey.
Ray Mouawad, a Lebanese historian, says growing fundamentalism is a threat not just to Christians but to all religious minorities, as well as to secular Muslims. For Islamic fundamentalists, he says, "no building of churches is allowed, no display of the cross, no processions, no equality in the law, no participation in the political process and, of course, no freedom of conscience. These are just some ideas that are prevalent in fundamentalist circles from Iran to Morocco."