Friday, February 10, 2017

Christophobia, ISIS and Christian Genocide in the Middle East

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." - Matthew 5:11

Ethiopian Christians purportedly executed by ISIS in Ethiopia
On March 17, 2016 John Kerry recognized that ISIS was committing genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria.  ISIS marked Christian houses with the Arabic equivalent of the letter "N" for Nazarene and targeted Christians. There has been a reduction in the number of Christians in Iraq and Syria. For example, in 2006 35,000 Christians lived in Mosul and now only 20 to 30 remain.

Nine years earlier then Senator Barack Obama wrote Secretary of State  Condoleezza  Rice on September 11, 2007 concerned "for Iraq's Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities who appear to be targeted by Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish militants." The then Senator from Illinois and future President continued writing: "The severe violations of religious freedom faced by members of these indigenous communities, and their potential  extinction from their ancient homeland, is deeply alarming in light of our mission to bring freedom to the Iraqi people."

Things did not improve for Iraqi or Syrian Christians during the Obama Presidency and with the rise of ISIS worsened.

According to Pew Research in 2016 globally 38,901 Muslim refugees entered the United States as opposed to 37,521 Christian refugees but this is a misleading number because it does not reflect the disparity in the Middle East and that Christians there have been targeted for genocide. In fiscal year 2016 when the Secretary of State recognized that Christians in Iraq and Syria were targeted for genocide the United States admitted 12,587 Syrian Refugees out of which 12,486 were Muslims, 68 Christians, and 24 Yazidis. This is troubling since Syria had a population of 22.85 million according 2013 statistics with 10% Syrian Christians which translates to 2.2 million.  Only 0.5% of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States are Christian or 68 if the refugee flow were proportional the number of Christian Syrian refugees would be approximately 1,000.

Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations and now being considered for a top post at the State Department concluded in September 2016 that in a de facto manner the United States was barring Christians, not Muslims from the United States and went on to explain how to solve this problem with some common sense reforms that the Obama Administration failed to implement.

James Zogby of the Arab American Institute disputed Abrams line of argument and argued that Christians were being "used" citing the silence of the Bush Administration during the first three years of the Iraq war when they were being devastated in Iraq and made the argument that not as many Christians have fled as claimed by Mr. Abrams. Mr. Zogby is a critic of the Iraq war and in 2014 in an essay "A Precarious Christmas" wrote the following that seems to contradict his argument:
Caught in the middle, as one Syrian has termed it “between the anvil of the regime and the hammer of violent extremists,” the country’s Christians have paid a dear price. Scores of churches have been destroyed and two bishops have been kidnapped by shadowy extremist groups. The famed ancient Aramaic-speaking town of Maaloula has been over-run by an al Qaida affiliated group that is holding captive the nuns from that community’s monastery. In the face of this violence and destruction, almost half of Syria’s Christians have joined their Muslim compatriots as refugees. Those who remain in the country live in fear for their future.
As a human rights activist I don't agree with a religious test for refugees but am concerned Christians targeted for genocide are being underreported for political reasons. I'm also uncomfortable that when raising the issue of Christian persecution there is a hostile reaction not seen when discussing other religious minorities such as Yazidis or Shia Muslims. Has Christophobia the hatred, prejudice, and bigotry against Christians, become so entrenched in elite circles that with a Christian genocide underway in Iraq and Syria only 68 Christian Syrian refugees arrived in fiscal year 2016 and questioning how to save more is considered a controversial proposition. 

Republican Congressman Chris Smith is calling on the Trump Administration to provide relief for Christian genocide survivors fleeing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In December 2016 Congressman Smith visited the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil in Iraq. This is an excerpt of the report on what the Congressman found.
  The Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul, Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, who had to flee ISIS and seek refuge in Erbil, told Smith, “So often concern for Christians is minimized. I am so happy, because you are the first American who has come to just ask about the Christians. We pray that President Trump will help us. We are the last people to speak the Aramaic language. Without help, we are finished.”       
I also saw how the Obama Administration has shortchanged organizations conducting criminal investigations and collecting, preserving and preparing evidence usable in criminal trials. Perpetrators will dodge punishment unless there is specific evidence linking them to specific atrocity crimes. My Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act legislation is a blueprint for how to assist Christians and other genocide survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. I will be working tirelessly to get this bill on the new President’s desk when we reconvene in January,” added Smith.

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