2014-09-10 By Julien Canin
The deteriorating situation facing millions of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East was focused of a bipartisan and ecumenical conference which started yesterday in Washington DC.
The three-day event (September 9-11) sponsored by In Defense of Christians (IDC), a non-profit organization, featurex speakers from all over the globe. 1,000 attendees representing over 20 states are attending at this event according to the organization.
The theme of this summit is “Protecting and preserving Christianity, Where it all began” and gather Members of Congress and their staff, policy makers, diplomats, human rights activists, and, historical event in the United States, Christian Patriarchs from the Middle East especially Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Rai, Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III and Aram I Keshishian from the Armenian Apostolic Church.
For the president of IDC, Toufic Baaklini,
“For too long, Westerners have stood by, silent or unaware, while Christians and other groups in the Middle East have endured discrimination, persecution, and religious clensing.” Therefore, objectives of this summit are to “empower the Middle Eastern Christian Diaspora and energize the American people to stand in solidarity the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East.”
Indeed, IDC believes that America’s foreign policy apparatus, especially the State Department, too often projects indifference on the question of persecuted religious minorities in the region, especially Christians.
During the press conference, Pr. Robert P. George, has described a narrative internalized by Christians who explained part of the West silent:
“Christians are only the persecutor not the persecute, only the victimizer not the victims. For that raison, Christians not claims their faith, stay quiet while their sisters and brothers suffer.”
For its part, Washington Archibishop Donald Wuerl enjoined people to unity: “come together and stand together… united in our Christian belief.”
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), argued that situation in Iraq must be adressed by the United Nations, and that the Iraqi central government has to protect effectively minorities (Christians, Turkmens, Yazidis…).
Currently, Kurds are the only bulwark against IS forces who execute an “assault on civilization itself”. “The U.S. needs to help the region’s Kurds, who have taken in thousands of Christian refugees. The phenomenon that makes this so dangerous is that we have an eighth century mentality with 21st century weapons,” Fortenberry said.
In a presentation, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s center for Religious Freedom, denounced a “Cultural Genocide.”
In conclusion, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) proposed to create an international body, such as in the case of the Ex-Yougoslavia, Sierra-Leone and Rwanda, to prosecute the ISIS as war criminals.
Today, September 10th, attendees will be in the U.S. Congress for a meeting and sensitization with Congressmen.
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Earlier we discussed the situation of the Christian in Iraq with one of the organizers of the conference, Joseph Kassab:
An important aspect of understanding the current situation is to understand the terrain and its occupants. At play in the struggle between ISIS and the Kurds is the Nineveh Plains. And in the midst of this struggle the fate of Iraqi Christians is being determined.
According to Kassab:
The Nineveh Plains are a highly contested area; they are not mountainous but very open and thereby provide an invasion area for the ISIS.
It is also highly undeveloped because it is so contested.
In this area are many minorities and among those minorities maybe 60-70% of them are Christians.
The area is also floating on a lake of oil and makes the area very desirable to control; the Kurds want it; and the Arabs want it. It is a very strategic location.
The ISIS is clearly targeting the Christians for ideological reasons; when you want to establish a medieval theocracy you want to create the politics of ethnic elimination of your “enemies.” The U.S. stands for secularism in Iraq; ISIS is on a clear direct collision course with U.S. preferences and policies.
There are many stories and incidents coming from Iraq of ISIS pursuit of and persecution of Christians.