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Panel: Genocide, Wars, Indifference Will Make Mideast Christians Extinct

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Panel: Genocide, Wars, Indifference Will Make Mideast Christians Extinct

NEW YORK (CNS) — Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide,
wars and international indifference to their plight, according to panelists at
a Dec. 5 interfaith forum in New York.

A concerted multilateral effort to establish a safe haven for them while
rebuilding their devastated homelands is preferable to massive permanent
resettlement to other countries, including the United States, they said.

Twelve speakers at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture event explored “The
Crisis for Christians in the Middle East,” with a particular focus on vulnerable
Christian minorities in Syria and Iraq.

Christians formed the majority in the Middle East until the Crusades in the 12th-14th centuries,
but “the past thousand years haven’t been good in many ways,” said Jack
Tannous, assistant professor of history at Princeton University.

Tremendous violence perpetrated against Christians led to widespread conversion, he said, and
long periods of stasis have been punctuated by large-scale persecution and
followed by immigration.

As a result, many Christians were effectively exterminated from the lands where
they lived for centuries, said Michael Reynolds, associate professor of Near Eastern
studies at Princeton University.

Genocide is the accurate description for the fate of Christians, especially in areas
controlled by the Islamic State, speakers said.

Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious
Liberty, said she appreciated that Christians were included in the March 17
genocide declaration by Secretary of State John Kerry, even if
the inclusion, she added, was made with difficulty by the current administration and
because “it’s popular to talk about minority religions.”

Kerry said the atrocities carried out by the Islamic State group against Yezidis,
Christians and other minorities were genocide.

“Today we are witnessing the world’s indifference to the slaughter  of Christians in the Middle East and Africa,” said Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and former U.S.
ambassador to Austria. Referencing the Holocaust, he said, “Since 1945,
genocide has occurred again and again. ‘Never Again!’ has become hollow. You
can’t just declare genocide and say the job is done. You have to back it up
with action.”

“Jews know what happens when the world is silent to mass slaughter. We learned it the
hard way,” Lauder added.

turn off the Middle East because it’s so horrible,” Arriaga de Bucholz said,
but having the U.S. declare genocide helps bring attention to the situation and
opens the potential for action.

John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said his
organization works with the Eastern churches throughout the Middle East, an
area not fully understood or appreciated by those in the Latin church. The
charitable and health care efforts particularly by women religious in largely
Muslim areas have been well-received, and Christians and others have gotten
along well, he said. Nonetheless, there is much outright suffering and
persecution, he said.

“Syria is an absolute mess, but the church is still there,” Msgr. Kozar said. Lebanon
is at or close to capacity with refugees. Jordan has the greatest concentration
of refugees in the world, but its camps are plagued with extortion and a
gangland mentality. Christians are considered third-class citizens in Egypt and
still suffer reprisals after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. Christians
in Kurdistan and Iraq face different challenges.

“We are accompanying Christians who believe that somehow Our Lord will accompany
and sustain them. We try to bring a reasonable stability,” he said.

Msgr. Kozar and other speakers underscored the deep historic and cultural connection
of the Christians to their lands. “There is a tug of war between the goodwill
of people here in the West who want to welcome and adopt (the refugees) and presume
it’s best to extract them from where they are, and the church leaders and most
of the people who want to stay” in the region and return to their countries
when it is safe to do so, Msgr. Kozar said. “Family, faith, and church are

Nina Shea, director of the center for religious freedom at the Hudson Institute, said
the current administration’s lack of a religious test for aid dooms tiny
minorities and the new administration must make sure Christians and other
minorities get their fair share of aid destined for Syria and Iraq.

Also, the United Nations needs a plan to protect minorities. “Otherwise, they will
become extinct,” she said.

Retired U.S. Gen. Raymond Odierno, former chief of staff of the U.S. Army, said during
his lengthy leadership service in Iraq, he never had a specific mission to
protect Christians. He said that was likely because there were bigger problems
and if the U.S. singled out Christians, it might be interpreted by the Iraqis
as trying “to force our religion on Iraq.”

Odierno said the new administration should be prepared to have a position on what
happens to Christians when the fighting wanes in Syria. He advocated a
multinational effort to establish a safe haven to protect Christians “until
governments can receive them and place them back where they belong — or else,
they’ll dwindle.”

The effort will only work if it is multinational and supported by the United
Nations, he said. A solo effort by the United States would create a larger
problem for Christians because it would look like the U.S. was unilaterally
protecting Christians.

Odierno also suggested relocating Christians from the Ninevah Plain of Iraq to Kurdish-controlled
areas during what he said could be a 10- to 20-year rebuilding process before
they could return home. He could support a no-fly zone there if there’s a
threat and if Russia participated, he said.

Odierno said it’s unclear if the U.S. and Russia can work together to protect
Christians and he has not spoken to anyone in Russia, “but I believe we should
be able to develop common ground on this.”

He said, “It’s up to us as a nation that supports all religions to assist when any
religion is being attacked. We should be there and take a look at it … we may
be judged 50 years from now.”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said when bishops visit him from the Middle East,
“they don’t say a lot, but unfailingly cry and plead not to be forgotten. They
feel desperate, alone and isolated.” He wore a Coptic pectoral cross, a gift to
him from Egypt, and he displayed an icon of the Martyrs of Libya.

“We have a God who is calling us to a sense of justice, advocacy and charity. We
cannot forget these people,” he said.

The event was organized by the Anglosphere Society, a nonprofit membership
organization that promotes the traditional values of English-speaking peoples, in
collaboration with the Archdiocese of New York and the Sheen Center for Thought
& Culture.


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