Anti-Christian Pogroms in the Middle East

There have been plenty of headlines devoted to President Obama’s ad hoc Middle East foreign policy and the uprisings in Syria and Egypt. What has been missing, however, is any significant media attention or public outrage over the ongoing anti-Christian pogroms – yes, pogroms – in those two countries.

Many political and media moguls seem indifferent or fearful of criticizing the criminal and terrorist activities of Muslim extremists. The United Nations and Western powers that carry on about human rights and religious freedom have been silent on Christian persecutions. They have been looking the other way as young Christian girls are being raped and murdered and as Christian churches, monasteries, homes, and workplaces are being systematically destroyed.

Here’s an update of recent anti-Christian terrorism in the Middle East:

Total Population                   22 million

     Christian Population          2.5 million

Syrian Catholic bishops have warned that their country is becoming a “second Iraq” owing to similar patterns of Church attacks and forced expulsion and kidnapping of Christians. During Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror, Iraq’s Christian population plummeted from 1.4 million to fewer than 300,000. Many of those Christian refuges settled in Syria, which was considered, at that time, a more tolerant country.

According to Church sources, the major industrial city of Homs, home to Syria’s largest Christian population, has borne the brunt of violence. Attacks on Christian churches, schools, convents, as well as homes and businesses, have caused a mass exodus. It is estimated that 50,000 Christians, about 90 percent of the Homs Christian population, have fled to the mountains or have sought refuge in Lebanon. Those left behind cannot find work and earn money to support their families. Food has been scarce and unaffordable.

Charitable organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and others have been providing food and shelter for the Christian victims of Syria’s civil war.

One hundred miles south of Homs, in Damascus, Christians have suffered a similar fate. The Greek Catholic Archbishop has reported that 40,000 Christians have fled or have been displaced. Church attendance has declined by 60 percent since 2011 and there were only thirty baptisms in 2012. Over forty churches have been destroyed; priests and deacons have been murdered.

Sister Joseph-Marie Chanaa of the Sisters of Charity, who has been helping war-battered families, recently told representatives of Aid to the Church in Need, “What is happening here is inhuman. Young people are abducted. Dead bodies are chopped up, the arms and legs are cut off and then cut into pieces. Whoever’s heard of such a thing anywhere else?”

In April 2013, two Orthodox archbishops were kidnapped near the city of Aleppo. The Archbishops were returning from the Turkish border, having negotiated the release of two priest hostages. Their car was ambushed and the driver, a deacon, was murdered. The fate of the two Syrian archbishops is unknown to this day.

The chaos of the civil war in Syria has given radicals the opportunity to single out and to terrorize Christians.

         Bishop Kyrillos Kamal William Samaan

Total Population                   85 million
     Christian Population             8.5 million

Amidst the chaos since President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, the Muslim Brotherhood has looted and destroyed over eighty churches, scores of religious facilities, and untold numbers of Christian-run stores. Many Christians have been abducted to extort ransom money. Complaints made to the police following incidents with Islamists have been fruitless.

To give the faithful some protection, the Coptic Patriarch wants to build walls around the cathedral in Alexandria and all ecclesiastical facilities in Korby El Korba.

Coptic-Catholic Bishop Kyrillos Kamal William Samaan of Assiut, has said, “the [Muslim brothers] think that the Christians were the cause of Morsi being ousted. But the Christians are not alone:  there were 35 million who went on the streets against Morsi. . .Christians are being punished. We have been scapegoated.”

Bishop Kyrillos, who is hoping that the new constitution expresses “the equality of all Egyptians, Christian as well as Muslims, before the law,” has pointed out time and again the indifference of the Western governments: “[They] are speaking about human rights. . .[but] do not see the reality of what is going on here. . . .A group of terrorists have used arms against us. Western governments should not be supporting this.”

Reacting to the terror, many young Christians have mobilized to defend their churches. In twelve-hour-shifts they are stationed outside their churches to prevent attacks. A Spanish Comboni missionary, Sister Expedita Perez who has helped organize these watch groups, has said that, “Christians want to stand their ground and defend themselves from the terrorists. . . . [Young Christians] are surrounding the churches together with their other brothers in faith, both Orthodox and Protestant. All united.”

Frightening, isn’t it?  But the United Nations and our president, both of whom constantly plead for tolerance and diversity, are silent. In the face of widespread persecution, sometimes approaching ethnic cleansing, there are no U.N. resolutions condemning Islamist radicals and no presidential red lines. 

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.