Today, millions if not billions of Christians throughout the world celebrate the birth of Jesus son of Joseph two thousand years ago in the town of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem! One visualizes scenes of a bright burning star hanging over the quiet of the night, where beneath in a humble manger, the raison d'être of the Christian faith was born.
While Jerusalem is sacred to Christianity (as well as Islam and Judaism), the smaller and more quiet Bethlehem may be said to be the spiritual beginning of Christianity.
The inhabitants of Bethlehem had lived in reasonable (not perfect, but reasonable) harmony for thousands of years. Christmas has always been a special moment in the holy town, but then even more significant for Christians who made the pilgrimage to be there in the birth place of Jesus Christ on the day of His birth.
Unfortunately in the last few years that inter-religious harmony, between the local Christians and Muslims, has been shattered, probably forever.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, together with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, lamented on what Williams said to be the ‘ignorant’ policy of the British and US governments in launching an unjustified (and indeed illegal) attack, invasion and occupation of the sovereign nation of Iraq.
Archbishop Wllliams launched an outspoken attack on the two Angle-Saxon governments, saying their ignorant policy in Iraq has put Christians in the region at risk. He said that Christians are being attacked and forced to flee the Middle East because their countrymen see them as supporters of a ‘crusading West’.
Well, didn’t President Bush labelled his invasion as a ‘crusade’?
Williams said: "This Christmas, pray for the little town of Bethlehem, and spare a thought for those who have been put at risk by our short-sightedness and ignorance."
Williams, who is not shy of controversy, has long been a critic of the Iraq war, saying there was no moral basis for military intervention.
He said the consequences of Anglo-American aggression in the Middle East have been the erosion of hitherto good relations between Muslims and Christians, with Christians increasingly becoming targets for Muslim extremists.
He added: "One warning often made and systematically ignored in the hectic days before the Iraq War was that Western military action ... would put Christians in the whole Middle East at risk."
Tough luck, Archbishop, the Brits did it because Tony Blair wanted to suck up to Bush, while Bush was an idiot led by his nose by the pro-Israeli lobbies and pressure groups. And what Israel wanted (and still wants) was the total destruction and fragmentation of the two regional powers with the greatest potential to match its military and fighting might, namely Iraq and Iran.
Sorry, but the local Christians just have to look after themselves because, as far as the Yanks are concerned (just examine the composition of the Bush Administration), Israeli interests must come first.
Ironically, to the Israeli Judaists, people like Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Eli Yishai, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef etc, Jesus was nothing more than, at best a heretic and at worst an apostate.
But will the US induced hatred and acrimony between the locals see the eventual end of Christmas in Bethlehem?