One of the many mysteries of the current political and media scene is the neglect which accompanies a growing worldwide Christian martyrdom, but particularly in the Middle East.
Ancient Christian enclaves, some of them going back to its earliest origins in its birthplace which have survived centuries of vicissitudes, are being exiled – or worse destroyed. It is hard to reckon whether the personal suffering or the damage to world culture is the more devastating.
Although some prominent voices have been raised in protest, the rapid fire events in the region and a plethora of crises around the world have not spotlighted what may be the worst persecution of Christians in centuries. The Obama Administration, while making conventional obeisance to the issue, has not made publicity nor opposition to Christian martyrdom, an important policy issue. The President’s statements on the issue, some observers believe, are muffled by fear of counterattacks from Moslem moderates as well as Islamic terrorists alluding to “Crusaders” and the traditional struggle between Islam and Christianity..
Pope Francis last year told a delegation of Jews headed by World Jewish Council President Ronald Lauder “that he believes we are in World War III but unlike the first two world wars, instead of happening all at once, this war is coming in stages.” Lauder said the Pope meant that “first Jews suffered savage attacks that were met with the world’s silence and now it is Christians who are being annihilated and the world is silent.” Lauder said Christians in Iraq and Syria are even being identified with a symbol bearing the Hebrew letter for N, for Nazarene, much “as the yellow star was used in the past against European Jewry.”
David Saperstein, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom indicated in Congressional testimony that the Obama Administration has no strategy for countering the pogroms. Saperstein’s position, primarily as a representative to the Congress, was left open for nine months and downgraded on his appointment, which is interpreted by religious leaders as the low priority given the issue at the White House.
The just released annual State Dept. report on religious freedom around the world has reported that only a half million of Iraq’s church leaders remain from a population that once numbered as many as 1.4 million. Some 300,000 Yazidis and thousands of Kākā’is, herterodox religious and tribal minorities with some Christian aspects, are among nearly a million Iraqis who are internal refugees.
The worst atrocities appear to be committed by Daesh [ISIS or ISIL], the self-appointed new Moslem caliphate. In one instance Daesh separated and then executed at least 100 Yazidi men within the span of a few hours and took the remaining women and children into sexual slavery. Daesh has systematically destroyed churches, Shiite shrines and other religious sites in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State’s main jihadist rival in the bloody Syrian civil war, al Qaida’s Nusra Front killed a Dutch priest in Homs in April and a dozen Druze, including priests, in August.
Although the most dramatic persecutions are taking place in the Mideast, there have been new outbreaks of old anti-Christian campaigns in other areas, as for example in Indonesia – generally touted for its “moderate” Islam – where jihadists have force local officials to close churches.
Prominent Christian leaders say the United States and the other superpowers aren’t doing enough to stop what Pope Francis has called the “genocide” of Christians in the Middle East. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and head of an international relief group, also used that word in a Facebook post last week
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan has ascribed the blame for the deterioration of religious tolerance – always scarce in that part of the world – as “a very direct result of the politics taken by Westerners. These nations must accept refugees.” Surely, refuges are not the best way to solve the crisis. But it is significant that the U.S. in its wide swinging refugee program has only admitted 25 Syrian Christians in a thousand or so Syrian refugees he has admitted so far.