Middle East Christians suffer genocide, the world just finger-wags
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Where will the systematic and unchallenged persecution of Christian communities in the Middle East by the Islamic State stop? Will it be at the dismantlement of every church, and the slaughter of every churchgoer? Or will it be at the exodus of all members of those communities, forced to flee certain death and torment?

Unfortunately, these are two very probable scenarios given the complete inactiveness of world leaders — from the Kremlin, White House, Downing Street, and the Elysee to the United Nations and Pope Francis, who will make a historic and timely visit to Egypt next week on April 28.

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Last Sunday, Islamic State suicide bombers turned two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt into scenes of unimaginable horror. Forty-four worshipers celebrating Palm Sunday were brutally ripped apart by bombs and left burning to death, leaving behind church walls and pews stained with innocent blood and torn bodies left lying lifeless. It was the single deadliest day in decades for Egypt’s Christians, and the worst since an ISIS bombing attack at a Cairo church killed 30 people last December. Their only crime? Wishing to practice their faith peacefully, in their own place of worship.

 

The attacks in Egypt are the latest abomination in a relentless, barbaric war waged by ISIS to rid the Middle East of the ancient Christian communities that have thrived in the region since the first century AD.

ISIS has vowed to systematically kill and persecute Christians in countries from Libya to Iraq, employing tactics that include mass slaughters, beheadings, enslavement, rape,kidnapping, abductions of women and girls, and forced migration. In Iraq, the Christian population has decreased from 1.5 million in 2003 to 200,000 today. If no serious and legitimate action is taken steadfastly, some experts predict that there will be no Christians in the Middle East within 10 years as a result of being either killed or forced to flee persecution.  

And this is a problem that goes beyond the Middle East. Four out of every five people killed for religious reasons worldwide are Christians and 200 million Christians worldwide live in areas where they are discriminated against.

It is important that this call to action not be mistaken as an appeal to just Christians, Jews, Muslims, or even the religious per se, but rather to the humanist, the secular, and most importantly, to the compassionate.

Let us hear the Irish statesmen Edmund Burke, who stated that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing. If Christians in the Middle East are annihilated, responsibility will not only lie with the perpetrators, but with leaders who failed to come to the aid of people being slaughtered for nothing more than believing something different.

Have we learned nothing from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where more than 800,000 Tutsi were killed in less than three months? Has the Assyrian genocide already slipped into oblivion? Have we forgotten the ethnic cleansing campaign against Muslims in Bosnia? Let us not commit the mistakes of the past, where we have learned already too many times, that inaction in the face of an enemy stopping at nothing to slaughter a minority leads to nothing more than further and farther bloodshed.

World leaders vowed that they would never allow such atrocities to happen again, yet we find ourselves once again on the precipice of a similar massacre.

More than a year ago, institutions from the European Parliament to the United States Congress recognized that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East. At nearly the same time, more than 200 Muslim leaders and heads of state gathered in Morocco and released the Marrakesh Declaration, calling for the protection of religion minorities, including Christians.

These institutions did not, however, support those resolutions with concrete action. In fact, Human Rights Watch reported they “failed to properly and effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible.” World leaders can no longer afford to hesitate. Prayers and speeches are not enough. The populist uprisings in the United Kingdom and the United States, and the emergence of far right parties in Italy, France, and Germany have shown that voters will no longer tolerate inaction and the status quo.

To save and protect the Christians of the Middle East, leaders beginning with the Pope, who will visit Egypt at the end of April, must raise their voices and take swift and aggressive steps to end this crisis. Middle Eastern governments must significantly increase security for Christian churches, schools, institutions, and neighborhoods, and Western governments and the UN should provide financial aid for these efforts.

The United Nations should also ensure that humanitarian aid is directed to Christian communities impacted by the Islamic State’s genocide, including reconstruction programs and genocide investigations. The perpetrators of genocide must be brought to justice in international criminal courts, and we should pursue the possibility of prosecuting former ISIS fighters who have fled back to their home countries. We must ensure that those refugees displaced by genocide are provided the security and aid needed to return to their communities and rebuild their economies.

Finally, raising public and global awareness of this crisis will be critical to ending it. We have seen time and time again that the outrage of decent and compassionate individuals, no matter their religion, race, or ethnicity, almost always results in effective action against the unjust and the guilty.

There is no justification, religious or otherwise, for these horrendous crimes. We must appeal to the secularist, the humanist, the religious, and anyone who believes that life, a sacred item we know so little about, is by far our most prized possession.

Cécilia Attias is the former First Lady of France, founder of the Cécilia Attias Foundation for Women, and Senior Vice President for Public Affairs of Richard Attias & Associates.


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