Middle East Christians celebrate Christmas under yoke of genocide


The ISIS bombing of St. Mark’s cathedral in Cairo on Dec. 11 2016, the largest church in the Middle East, momentarily brought the suffering of Middle East Christians to the forefront of American consciousness.

In the days since, the coverage has subsided, with more unsettling news from the region. Lost in the news cycle is the question of Christianity’s survival across the Middle East.

American media coverage of religious persecution in the Middle East, particularly violent extremism that targets vulnerable minority groups, has improved in recent years. But there is nothing like the coverage that is merited.

Minorities are, of course, keenly conscious of this – both in the West and the Middle East. But they feel that they are invisible to most observers from the West. There have been some exceptions.

{mosads}In 2011, after a New Year’s Day attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, “The Atlantic’s” Jeffrey Goldberg wrote of:

“The lackadaisical coverage of what seems to be the most important story coming out of the Middle East right now. …

“The Salafist war on Christians in the Middle East is intensifying fairly rapidly, with profound consequences not only for Christians in the lands of their faith’s earliest history … but for the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities in the greater Middle East.”

Goldberg observed that the “attack seems like a watershed moment” in a region:

“Historically intolerant of the rights of non-Arab Muslim minorities: The indigenous Africans of Sudan, who are trying to break free of Khartoum’s hold; the Kurds in Iraq and Syria; Christians in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq; and the Jewish people of Israel, among others.

“In Saudi Arabia, of course, it is illegal even to build a church, and I’m afraid it will soon be illegal to build one in Iraq.”

Goldberg’s words proved prophetic. What he foresaw culminated in genocide.

In 2013, Egypt’s Copts were the target of systematic violence, with dozens of churches burned in a single day in coordinated acts of systematic persecution. The following year, ISIS conquered Mosul and then the historic heartland of Christianity in Iraq, the Nineveh Plain.

Syria’s Christian population has diminished from two million to less than half that since the start of the ongoing civil war.

In 2016, our organization, In Defense of Christians, and others spearheaded the recognition of the ISIS genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and others by the U.S. Congress and Secretary of State John Kerry. The genocide continues, even as ISIS is driven back, with Christian and Yazidi IDPs and refugees across Iraq and the region unable to return home.

IDC calls on the incoming Trump administration to take swift action to protect the Christians of Iraq, Syria, and Egypt; to provide humanitarian aid and to urge governments to protect minorities; and to defeat ISIS — both militarily and by identifying and rooting out its ideological and financial bases of support.

IDC also calls for the creation of an autonomous region in the Nineveh plain for Christians and other minorities to live in in Iraq, to enable them to rebuild their homes and restore their cultures without fear of death, torture or destruction. 

We should remember this Christmas not only the Christians of Egypt, and those of Iraq, and Syria, survivors of genocide, but also the millions of Muslims, Jews, and other minority communities in the region who live daily in the shadow of imminent violence at the hands of tyrannical regimes or terrorists.

We should remember the people of Syria and Yemen, with hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced, and millions more innocent civilians on the verge of starvation as the result of wars waged by regional actors without regard for innocent, defenseless human life.

We should remember the rights of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been imprisoned under threat of capital punishment for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The world has grown too small for us to imagine that we may ignore what happens in Egypt or Iraq or Pakistan. These are not merely humanitarian issues; they are national security issues. The threat emanating from ISIS’ worldview is global in scope, as the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels, Orlando, Dhaka, Baghdad, Medina, and now Berlin and elsewhere make clear.

Millions across the Middle East live on the front lines in the fight against ISIS. Most of them, like the Christians of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq are defenseless and are every year targets of ISIS and other Salafi jihadists at Christmas and Easter.

Philippe Nassif is Executive Director of In Defense of Christians, a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organization committed to the preservation and protection of Christians in the Middle East.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Christianity in Iraq Christianity in the Middle East christians middle east Forced migration Genocide Genocide of Christians by ISIL In Defense of Christians Islam Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant John Kerry Mosul Politics of Syria Religion
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