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This Christmas, like every Christmas, thousands of pilgrims and tourists traveled to the Middle East to celebrate the holiday in the land of the Bible.At a time when the Middle East is aflame with sectarian strife, the observance of the Christian holiday is a sad reminder that the region's distinctive religious, ethnic and cultural diversity is rapidly disappearing. At the beginning of the 20th century, Christians made up roughly 20 percent of the Arab world. Even in Muslim communities, diversity has been dwindling.The waning of diversity in the Middle East goes back more than a century, to the bouts of ethnic and religious cleansing that took place during the Ottoman Empire, including the murder and displacement of 1.5 million Armenian and Syriac Christians in eastern Anatolia. The Arab Spring upheavals have given rise to grave new challenges to cultural and religious diversity in the Middle East.Its forces have demolished Sufi shrines, Shiite mosques, Christian churches and ancient monuments they consider to be remnants of a corrupt and profane past.Minorities have historically served as brokers between the Middle East and the outside world, and if they disappear, the region will lose an important class of cultural, economic and intellectual leaders.
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