Middle Eastern Christians Are in Dire Straits, and the West Hasn’t Done Much to Help

Since the nineties it has been apparent even in secular company that persecution of Christians was rampant in some countries. Yet beyond lip service, there is no international effort to change this disastrous situation.

More Christians died for their faith in the past century alone than in the history of Christianity to that point  – chiefly at the hands of atheist regimes (mainly in the past) and Salafist militants like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and others (now). The destabilization of the Middle East over the past two decades has had a devastating impact on the region’s native Christian population. In Iraq, a population that numbered more than a million in the 1990s dwindled to less than a third of that in the wake of the US-led invasion and removal of the secular government of Saddam Hussein. In Syria, under threat since 2011 by Salafist groups armed and funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other countries – the US shamefully included – Christians seemed to be facing a similar fate.

But lately there have been grounds for hope. Christmas is particularly joyful this year in Syria. Aleppo, Homs, and other cities liberated from years of oppression by jihadists had reason to celebrate – and the freedom to do so – care of the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian Air Force. Mosul in Iraq was cleared of ISIS fighters by US-led coalition. God willing, 2018 will see the freeing of other areas still under terrorist control.

Even when peace returns to Syria and Iraq, there will still be a formidable task of rebuilding. Earlier this year the US Agency for International Development made a point of announcing it would bypass United Nations agencies in order to “create high-quality, effective, and efficient partnerships” to help return members of “minorities” and “diverse religious and ethnic groups” to their homes across Iraq. Evidently, even under President Donald Trump official US government agencies are loath to explicitly refer to the faith, though commendably Vice President Mike Pence did do so when addressing a Christian conference.

The Russian government – which for years has spoken out against Christian genocide in the Middle East – has pledged its assistance in the rebuilding of Syrian churches, with the participation of the Orthodox Church and religious organizations. But why shouldn’t the governments of other countries pitch in too, not just for generic reconstruction or aid to displaced persons but specifically to help maintain Christians in the region where Christianity was born?

Apart from a few notable exceptions like Pence and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Western governments are still squeamish when talking about persecution of Christianity, which by far is the most widely persecuted religion on earth. But why? The State Department has no trouble at all saying “Muslim” when referring to, for example, Myanmar today or to Bosnia and Kosovo in the past. For example, when speaking in support of Kosovan independence, US Congressional leaders openly spoke of promoting a “US-Muslim partnership” and lauding the fact that “the United States leads the way for the creation of a predominantly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe.”

Would the same officials ever call for a US-Christian partnership or for Washington to play midwife to the birth of a predominantly Christian state – anywhere? Of course not.

To their credit, the governments of majority Muslim countries are not at all embarrassed to stick up for members of their own faith. In particular, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (the OIC), a group of 57 mostly Muslim-majority countries, bills itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” Despite intra-Islamic conflicts – notably the Sunni-Shiite divide between Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively – the OIC is vocal in promoting a unified Muslim perspective on issues where there is a broad consensus.

For example, the OIC issued a strong statement denouncing US President Donald Trump’s declaration that the United States considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. The OIC’s information chief also took a position on the internal affairs of traditionally Christian European countries, to the effect that mass Muslim migration is really doing Europe a big favor.

Where is the comparable Christian voice? After all, there are more majority-Christian countries (about 120) than majority-Muslim (about 50). There are approximately 2.5 billion people who identify as Christians, versus 1.8 billion Muslims.There are about 30 countries where Christianity or a particular church has a leading status defined in law, or where a church’s preeminence is customary, like the status of Orthodoxy in Russia or Roman Catholicism in Ireland, as opposed to about 20 where Islam is legally established. The flags of about 20 countries include specifically Islamic symbols, such the crescent moon. In contrast, about 30 national flags carry a depiction of the Christian cross, with an additional dozen or so if naval ensigns are counted, for example the Saint Andrew’s cross on the flags of the Russian and Belgian fleets, and the Saint George’s cross on the ensigns of India, Italy, South Africa, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and others whose civil flags do not display a cross.

In short, there is certainly a sufficient global “constituency” for a hypothetical Christian Counterpart for the OIC. (For the purposes of discussion, let’s call it the Organisation of Christian Cooperation,” or the OCC.) A future OCC should not only welcome all majority Christian countries but others where Christians are numerically or socially significant. For example, while South Korea is only about one-third Christian, Christians form a solid majority of that country’s citizens participating in organized religion. About thirty countries in sub-Saharan Africa would be obvious OCC Member State candidates, as would virtually all of Latin America. China and India, where Christian minorities outnumber the total populations of many majority-Christian countries, should be welcomed as Members or Observers.

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Source: RT