Beleaguered Arab Christians are finding their position among majority Muslim
populations more precarious than usual as the US and UK pursue military
action in Iraq.
Toufiq says use of the word "crusade" is worrying
The town of Madaba is home to some of Jordan's most prominent Christian
families - who are fiercely loyal to the state and royal family but believe
their relations with Muslim neighbours are deteriorating.
"Mosque preachers are talking about a "crusade" being waged by American and
British forces against Muslim Iraq," says Toufiq Mitri al-Salaitha, who cuts
a splendid figure in pyjamas, tartan dressing-grown topped off with the
traditional ghatra and igal headdress.
Mr Salaitha describes the use of the word crusade as "very worrying" for
Christians, because it places them on the side of the Americans, when in
fact only a tiny minority of his co-religionists support American policy.
"We want peace," says another Madaba resident who identified himself only as
Fouad. "We know (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein is a bad dictator and we want
to see him go, but not like this."
Fouad says - as a Christian - he is constantly being obliged to emphasise to
other Jordanians how Church leaders have condemned the war in Iraq.
"They (the Muslims) look at us differently, they are suspicious of us," he
Madaba is home to some of Jordan's most prominent Christian families
Nowadays, it is hard to find a single Christian who supports US military
action, although observers say that there was evidence before the war that
Christians were among the keenest in Jordan to see regime change in Iraq.
Mr al-Salaitha says America's reputation has been "made rotten" because of
Washington's perceived rush to a war that most people see as unprovoked and
Washington's closeness to Israel, and what Arabs see as its unwillingness to
stand up for the rights of Palestinians, has also alienated Christians.
"The US used to be very well-received and respected by people here, but now
I don't think more than two or three people in 100 appreciate Americans
now," he says.
"Indeed, I don't advise American people to visit some parts of Jordan,
because they will not be well-received."
Fouad, on the other hand, has a message to the American leadership.
"Solve the problem of Palestine, by making a Palestinian state, and our
lives will be much easier - because that is the reason for much tension."
He says the Muslim population - and Christians to no lesser extent - are
enraged by TV pictures of Muslim Arabs being killed in the occupied
territories - and it leads Muslims to view Christians as somehow allied to
the US, and by extension Israel.
Few of Madaba's Christians support US-led military action
He admits that the fact that many Christians - at least 100 in his own
family's case - have emigrated to the US compounds that impression.
"But especially when (United States) President (George W) Bush talks about a
"crusade" against terrorism in the Middle East, this is a big problem for
"The Americans should think what they say and what they do; they must
remember that there are Christians here, and what they do affects us," he