ISIS Wins When Christians Leave the Middle East
Militarily, ISIS is on the ropes. Mosul is falling, and the “caliphate’s” hold on Raqqa is tenuous. The land under their control has been substantially reduced and ISIS’ financial strength has likewise been severely limited.
ISIS may be wounded, and increasingly surrounded, but quarry is seldom more dangerous than when it is cornered, and that is certainly proving to be the case here as well. The terror group has shown considerable cunning, resilience and long-term planning by now deploying a strategy to win ideologically, regardless of what happens on the battlefield. Central to that ideological win is driving what few Christians remain out of the Middle East.
While the genocidal “religious cleansing” of Christians continues in Syria, ISIS has now stepped up its efforts in Egypt. Having succeeded in decimating the Christian populations in Iraq and Syria, the recurrent attacks on Coptic Christians are clearly designed to do one thing: drive out one of the last substantial Christian community in the Middle East.
The United States, the European Parliament, and numerous other governmental bodies have rightly declared the Islamic State’s campaign genocide. That was a good first step in terms of defining the problem.
But the genocide – and the Christian flight it generated – has continued. Even in Iraq where Christians fled to the safety of Kurdistan, the conditions on the ground mean that ISIS’ dream of a Christian-free zone in the Middle East is being realized. There, the attrition continues at such an alarming rate that Church leaders are warning that a “tipping point” may be reached and Christianity there may no longer be sustainable.
In Syria, the genocide has continued in earnest and Syriac Patriarchs have stated that there are no simply Christians living in the rebel-controlled regions of the country.
In Egypt, the attacks seem designed to push Christians to flee, an attempt to end pluralism in that country as well.
The Associated Press reported earlier this year that “Christians in northern Sinai have been fleeing in waves over recent years because of militant threats, and the community that before 2011 numbered up to 5,000 people has now dwindled to fewer than 1,000.”
Experts have for years argued that ISIS’ claims that Christians were given special treatment was just a “publicity stunt,” though one that some commentators and politicians in the West were quick to swallow.
Now, even that ruse is over. According to Fox News, in a recent video, ISIS refers to Christians in Egypt as its “favorite prey,” and states clearly that Christians are now “infidels” not “dhimmis.”
Of course, infidels are to be shown no mercy, according to ISIS. “‘God gave orders to kill every infidel,’ one of the militants carrying an AK-47 assault rifle says in the video,” according to the Fox report.
The attack on Christians last week in Sinai bears this out. The Christians were each asked to renounce their faith in Christ and then were shot when they refused.
Faced with an Islamic State strategy that would reshape the demographics of the Middle East by eliminating pluralism, defeating ISIS militarily is not enough. The ideological program of de-Christianization, and the systematic elimination of other religious minorities must be stopped as well.
It goes without saying that Christians have as much right to live in these countries as anyone else. Their presence there predates the religion claimed by their persecutors by 600 years.
And if pluralism in the region ends, tolerance, equal rights, and equal citizenship will likely become even more elusive. Tolerance and equality require the presence of people different from the majority population, and if Christians – and other minorities – are forced from the region, we may well ask who will these countries be tolerant of – or pluralistic with – then?
It is incumbent on Middle Eastern countries to treat their Christian communities – and those of other minority faiths – as full and equal citizens.
While promising that America would stand with the governments of the Middle East to promote peace and security, the President rightly stated in Saudi Arabia that the governments of the region must take immediate action themselves concerning the extremists in their midst and must “drive them out.”
Last week, the president discussed the plight of Christians in the Middle East with the pope, while the vice president discussed the matter with three Christian patriarchs from the region.
The problem is clear, and the time to act is now.
The House should immediately pass H.R. 390, which would help ensure that U.S. government aid actually gets to the communities that suffered genocide in Iraq and Syria that have too often received little or no direct assistance from our government or from the U.N.
It is also incumbent on our government to use its leverage and influence to encourage Middle Eastern governments to take action and to ensure that they protect these minority communities. It means making it a foreign policy priority to demand adherence by these countries to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Our government has the power to act, directly and with substantial influence.
If it does not, and if ISIS is able to use terror to drive the few remaining Christian populations from the region, then no matter what happens on the battlefield, we simply will not win the war against ISIS’ warped theology and its program of extremism, hatred, and genocide.
Carl Anderson is the CEO of the Knights of Columbus and a New York Times bestselling author.