TUESDAY, 17 SEPTEMBER 2013

U.S. ignoring violence against Mideast Christians?

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The administration has been, for a long time.

The outrage over humanitarian crises in Syria and Egypt is selective. And in Pakistan, Africa, and other parts of the world. Take a look at Persecution Report, an aggregator of current top news stories of atrocities committed against religious minorities in these areas, a stunning one page collection of headlines and links to the lives of so many innocent individuals terrorized for living their beliefs, and believing what they do in the first place. And last place, as so many are slaughtered for it.

I've had regular talks on radio with Nina Shea, Hudson Institute's Director of the Center for Religious Freedom, and each one is more shocking than the last. She says the silence by politicians and the media is due to a misguided sense of multi-culturalism and an unwillingness to speak out about Islamist groups targeting Christians, and it's overlooking one of the most massive human rights violations in the world today. 

Secretary of State John Kerry has said nothing about the crisis of religious minorities in Syria, even in what was until last week the runup to a potential military strike, which is still possible. Shea points out the flaws in the 'Damascus plan' if the Assad regime were to collapse or be removed.

Another crucial point in the rebels’ strategic memorandum involves revenge killings. This is a major concern, as the Syrian conflict is at its core a civil war within Islam. The regime identifies with the minority Alawite sect that is allied with Hezbollah militias supported by Shiite theocratic Iran, while the rebels, largely Sunnis, are bolstered by al-Qaeda terrorists and other Sunni jihadist fighters and supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Sunni regimes. Christians, who account for 10 percent (or more, when Iraqi refugees are counted) of the population and who have not taken up arms in this conflict are viewed by the two sides as aligned with the regime. They are the most vulnerable, since they have no militias or army to protect them...

Protecting the Christians does not seem to figure into the strategic plan at all.

The stark truth is that

...few in Washington are even bothering to ask what impact American strikes will have on Syria’s sizeable but defenseless Christian minority.

The State Department even has an 'Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,' who has said nothing about this crisis. Shea talks about it as a 'double-helix', with the press and politicians deciding which issues are reported and how they're framed.

The story of Maalula got reported for a day, and virtually dropped after that. Others don't even make the news, and there are so many other stories of churches being destroyed, Christians being tortured, beheaded and some having their throats slit if they don't renounce their faith.

Congressman Frank Wolf called for a special envoy for religious minorities and has been trying for months to get support in Congress for his bill.

He said that Congress should pass legislation to create an envoy dedicated to advocacy on behalf of religious minorities in the Middle East and south-central Asia.

“This will send an important message to both our own foreign policy establishment and to suffering communities in the Middle East and elsewhere that religious freedom is a priority — that America will be a voice for the voiceless,” he said.

Journalist Rod Dreher issued a throwdown to everyone who claims concern for human rights to religious freedom, pointing to the example of Sen. Rand Paul and quoting his outspoken statements about the consequences of Syrian intervention on vulnerable, unprotected minorities.

So here is the nightmare. If the U.S., France, and some miscellaneous allies strike at the regime, they could conceivably so weaken it that it would collapse. Out of the ruins would emerge a radically anti-Western regime, which would kill or expel several million Christians and Alawites. This would be a political, religious, and humanitarian catastrophe unparalleled since the Armenian genocide almost exactly a century ago.

Nightmare indeed. If you are a Christian, why don’t you care? And if you do care, have you spoken to your pastor, your friends, and most importantly, your Congressman and Senators, about it? Rand Paul gets it. Do you?

If so, contact elected representatives (easy to find at either senate.gov or house.gov) and urge them to support Cong. Wolf's special envoy bill, to take action to protect religious minorities and the international right to religious freedom.

Robert P. George, the new chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom took action this week in the form of a letter to the president.

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), I respectfully urge you to speak out clearly and forcefully about the unprecedented sectarian attacks committed against Christians in Egypt that proliferated at a frenetic pace on August 14 and the immediate days thereafter. It also is vitally important that the Egyptian interim government understands from you that it must promptly and thoroughly investigate violent incidents, prosecute perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law, and provide greater protections for Christians and their places of worship...

After former president Mohamed Morsi assumed office in June 2012, there was a noticeable increase in vitriolic, sectarian rhetoric targeted at religious minorities, particularly Copts and other Christians, as well as Shi’a, Sufis, and Baha’is. Following President Morsi’s ouster from office on July 3, there was an increase in violent attacks, which accelerated even more dramatically after the August 14 dispersals. Again, incitement against Christians was tolerated or even encouraged by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their belated attempts to condemn the violence and calm tensions have been inadequate. In addition, the military and interim government has failed to take adequate measures to protect the rights of those at risk.

USCIRF repeatedly has cautioned that religious minorities, particularly Copts, are among the most vulnerable to extremist and scapegoat attacks during the democratic transition. For years, USCIRF has faulted the Egyptian government for allowing sectarian violence to occur with impunity. Past large-scale attacks on Christians that resulted in the deaths of dozens and injuries to hundreds – such as in Maspero in October 2011, Imbaba in May 2011, and Alexandria in January 2011 – remain unpunished. In fact, the absence of prosecutions from past sectarian incidents targeting Copts has fostered a climate of impunity that encourages future attacks.

Mr. President, while USCIRF welcomed your August 15 statement condemning attacks on churches and calling for the rights of religious minorities to be respected, we urge you and your Administration to take additional action. In concert with the European Union and other allies, we hope you will press the interim Egyptian government to provide greater protections for Copts and other religious minorities and their places of worship and actively advocate for justice and accountability for the violence committed against them.

In its annual report last spring, the Commission recommended that your Administration designate Egypt as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in and tolerating severe, ongoing, and systematic violations of religious freedom. That recommendation reflects our deep concern about ongoing violations of religious freedom, and the Commission will continue to monitor closely actions by the interim government.

Coptic Christians in Egypt – numbering more than eight million people – constitute the largest religious minority community in the region. The United States must act to ensure this ancient religious community is secure both in the present and in the future.

And that doesn't even get into the crisis in Syria. Or Iraq, Pakistan, Africa... But it's something. And something that must be done.



This article is published by Sheila Liaugminas and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

 
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