This Christmas, spare a thought, and a prayer, for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

_article_images_articledir_15033_7516508_1_fullsize.jpg We are accustomed to thinking of Christianity as a European religion. Yet until the Islamic conquests of north Africa, the Middle East, Iraq and Iran, Christianity was at least as strong in these regions.

There are Christian communities in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria that go back two thousand years. Just as there have been Jewish communities throughout north Africa, the Middle East and Persia (Iran) for thousands of years.

These communities are under gave threat, according to the reports on the aftermath of the Iraq war and the "Arab Spring."

The killing has begun, and could get worse. In Iraq, about two thirds of its 1.4 million Christians have now fled — being firebombed by the jihadis. Last year, gunmen entered a Baghdad church and killed 58 parishioners. To go to church in Iraq, which Christians have been doing for two millennia, now means risking your life. Baghdad’s Jewish community has now been almost eliminated — by some estimates, half a dozen remain.

Tunisia’s Arab Spring has also let the jihadis loose: a Polish priest was executed recently, and they’re turning on its ancient Jewish community too. This has spread to Egypt, where Coptic Christians have lived in peace with Muslims for generations — until now, with 25 dead in October. Syria’s 1.5 Christians have suffered from the Assad regime as much as anyone, but they now pray for its survival, fearing it will be replaced by Islamic fundamentalists who will start persecution in earnest.

The Arab Spring has unleashed the demon. Power has gone not to the most popular, but the best-organised. This means the hardline Salafis, who follow the same mutant strain of Sunni Islam as al-Qaeda.

This is a war within Islam. The majority of Muslims are appalled at these Christian pogroms. After the Egyptian Copts were attacked last year, Muslim elders sat in the pews when they celebrated their (January) Christmas, acting as human shields. Egyptians changed their Facebook picture to a new logo — the crescent and the cross — to show unity. But the Facebook crowd have lost power to the Holy book crowd: the hardline Islamists are filling the void. The Muslim Brotherhood is well on its way to a new constitution which looks terrifyingly similar to that of Iran.