[The Western media seems to devote only minimal coverage to persecuted Christians and Jews in the Muslim world. I am most grateful for the following op-ed, which appeared in The Wall Street Journal, as well as in a Simon Wiesenthal Center e-Newsletter, focusing on this reality, suggesting that the situation is of “genocidal” proportions, and even the UN refugee camps may very well be unsafe for Christian refugees—hence the urgency to prioritize the protection and reception of Middle East Christian refugees in “safe” Western countries. To advocate for this cause, I have decided to re-blog the entire piece here. For yours truly, a pressing question arises for us here in Canada: Will our federal government also intervene to accept as many Middle Eastern Christian refugees as possible, in light of the fanatical, Islamist militants who seem determined to commit genocide against them? –Dim Lamp]
Mideast Christians Deserve U.S. Refuge*
Hunted by ISIS, afraid to enter refugee camps, they are undercounted and desperate for help.
By ABRAHAM COOPER By YITZCHOK ADLERSTEIN
Donald Trump’s bizarre proposal to bar all Muslim immigrants from the U.S. has overshadowed a more legitimate concern regarding religion and immigration: Middle East Christians who are desperate to escape the genocidal campaign against them by Islamic State.
Islamist terror attacks like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., have underlined the need for more and better vetting of refugees from the Middle East who seek safety in the U.S. But with tens of thousands pushing at the gate, who should to get first preference?
In our view, as rabbis, any immediate admissions should focus on providing a haven for the remnants of historic Christian communities of the Middle East. Christians in Iraq and Syria have been suffering longer than other groups, and are fleeing not just for safety but because they have been targeted for extinction. In a region strewn with desperate people, their situation is even more dire. Christians (and Yazidis, ethnic Kurds who follow a pre-Islamic religion) have long been targeted by Muslim groups—not only Islamic State, or ISIS—for ethnic cleansing. Churches have been burned, priests arrested.
In the worst cases, Christians have been tortured, raped and even crucified. Mosul, Iraq, which was home to a Christian population of 35,000 a decade ago, is now empty of Christians after an ISIS ultimatum that they either convert to Islam or be executed. In Syria, Gregorios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of the Church of Antioch, said in 2013 that “entire villages” have been “cleared of their Christian inhabitants.”
Unlike some others, Middle East Christians have nowhere else to go. As a result of turmoil not of their making and beyond their control, these Christians are the region’s ultimate homeless. Should some sort of peace ever return, the likelihood is that maps will be redrawn, carving up the pie among larger ethnic groups. There will be no place for Christians among hostile Muslim populations.
The animosity toward Christians is illustrated by a horrific incident earlier this year off the Italian coast. In April, Italian police investigating events on a boat that had departed from Libya said 12 Christian refugees who were attempting to cross the sea to Europe were thrown overboard by Muslim migrant passengers, and drowned.
The U.S. can do much good for Christian refugees. Their religious heritage establishes an important basis of commonality in the many Christian communities in our country.
When Secretary of State John Kerry announced in September that the U.S. will accept as many as 100,000 refugees by 2017, many of them Syrian, the State Department provided a list of more than 300 agencies in 190 locations that would assist on the local level. Of those agencies, no less than 215 are Christian. It makes sense to play to the strengths of those agencies.
Success in dealing with the first wave of immigrants will help build bipartisan support for other refugees from the Middle East to come to America.
Tragically, present policy does not take into account the uniquely precarious situation of displaced Christians. Instead of receiving priority treatment, Christians are profoundly disadvantaged. For instance, the State Department has accepted refugees primarily from lists prepared by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, which oversees the large camps to which refugees have flocked, and where they are registered. Yet endangered Christians do not dare enter those camps.
George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in the Telegraph in Britain in September that a similar protocol in the U.K. “inadvertently discriminates against the very Christian communities most victimised by the inhuman butchers of the so-called Islamic State. Christians are not to be found in the UN camps, because they have been attacked and targeted by Islamists and driven from them.”
U.S. missteps and missed opportunities in the region contributed to the crises that disproportionately affected Christians. America’s policy should immediately be amended to include these refugees at the top of the list. Opening America’s doors to them first is the right thing to do.
Rabbi Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Rabbi Adlerstein is the center’s director of interfaith affairs.
*From UK-based think-tank POLITEIA:
Wednesday 23rd December: This week over 60 MPs and peers wrote to the Prime Minister to ask that the crimes against minorities in Syria should be treated as genocide. That letter echoed another warning by Prince Charles that Christian communities in the Middle East were ‘being targeted like never before by fanatical Islamist militants intent on dividing communities that had lived together for centuries’.
In America, two Rabbis from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish Human Rights NGO have now added their voice to the policy discussion, calling in the Wall Street Journal for the State Department to admit these refugees to the US. … In a discussion based on this article, Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein explain why Middle East Christians present a special case for humanitarian concern.