Imperiled Mideast Christians

A ground-breaking conference held in Chicago issued an urgent appeal for Western Christians to not forget their brethren living under Shari’a law in Muslim-majority countries.

DR. WAILD PHARES 311 (photo credit: Dexter van Zile)
(photo credit: Dexter van Zile)
Amid the massive political upheavals in the Middle East, a ground-breaking conference held recently in Chicago issued an urgent appeal for Western Christians to not forget about the suffering endured by their sisters and brothers living under Shari’a law in the Muslim-majority countries of the region.
The one-day gathering on March 12, held under the theme of The Persecuted Church: Christian Believers in Peril in the Middle East, was sponsored by more than a dozen organizations, including local churches, proponents of religious freedom, and groups of indigenous Middle Eastern Christians now living in the US.
“This is an historic event,” said keynote speaker Dr. Walid Phares, author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.
“The gathering of representatives of Copts, Assyrian-Chaldeans, Lebanese Christians and other Middle East Christians, along with Christian and secular American groups, all advocating for the rights of indigenous populations in the Middle East from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, is a game changer in how we view human rights in the region. I call this event the ‘Chicago Initiative’ and wish to see it happening across the nation.”
Attendees of the conference were informed that hostility toward Christian minorities is an undeniable fact of life in Muslim countries and that governments in the Middle East have failed to protect indigenous Christians throughout the region. This problem has largely been ignored in the West because of a failure on the part of the media to cover the story, charged Phares.
The dearth of coverage on the plight of Mideast Christians translates into a lack of attention to the issue by American policymakers, who so far have failed to take measures to protect indigenous populations in the region even in those countries where the US has direct influence, Phares added.
“The Christian people of Iraq are under clear threat of annihilation,” Phares warned. “We intervened in the Balkans to protect Muslims. This is a similar situation.”
Phares assessed that Christians who fled Arab/Islamic lands for America could play a huge role in directing the attention of the media and policymakers to the plight of their communities back home.
“The Iraqi Christians could have a loud voice in America,” he assured.
Juliana Taimoorazy, director of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, a group headquartered in Chicago which advocates for the Assyrian Christian community in Iraq, recounted how Muslim extremists in Iraq sent threatening letters to Christian families in the years following the US-led invasion in 2003.
“They offered three simple choices: To convert to Islam, to pay the jizya, or to leave,” she said.
“Initially, many refused to obey. This resulted in the acts of kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of our innocent men and women.”
Father Keith Roderick, an Episcopal priest who serves as general secretary for the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights, said Christians cannot rely on traditional media outlets to give the mistreatment of indigenous groups the coverage it deserves.
Rather, they will have to take advantage of social media to get their story out. “The people themselves have to be their own media,” he said.
The point of the conference was not to demonize Islam or antagonize Muslims, noted Dexter Van Zile, Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, one of the cosponsors of the conference.
Instead, the goal was to inform the American public about an under-reported problem and put leaders on notice that Christians in the Middle East need protection.
“Christians in the Middle East do not have the money to hire PR experts and lobbyists,” said Van Zile. “They must pay with their lives and blood to get their hearing. We must not break faith with them by ignoring their story."