AJC Global Forum Blog

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This Christmas

As the world prepares to mark Christmas 2015, we’re saddened by the steady decline of Christian communities in the Middle East, where Christianity began and where Christians have lived for centuries. A century ago about 14% of all residents of the Middle East were Christians; today they make up just 4%, and constitute less than 1% of the world’s Christians. Even in Lebanon, a country whose borders and governmental system were set so that Christians could be assured of a share of power and influence, the Christian share of the population has declined from 78% to 34%.

Throughout the region, disintegration of previously stable countries and the violent rise of radical Islam have affected all people—Muslims, Christians, others—but it is the 2015 Christmas reality that Christianity is disappearing in many places where Christian history dates back to the founding centuries of the faith.

This persecution takes many forms. There are Muslim-majority countries where the state has no quarrel with Christians. Unfortunately there are also Muslim-majority countries, like Iran, where persecution is official policy.

Here’s a look at Iraq, where Islamic extremist groups, not the government, are guilty, and at Iran, where the government orchestrates anti-Christian measures:

Radical Islamic Terror in Iraq

For 1,700 years, Christians have lived in the Iraqi city of Mosul. When the Islamic State (ISIS) took control in 2014, its leaders told the local Christians that if they did not convert to Islam they would have to leave town in a matter of hours or be killed. When the deadline passed, the letter “N” was scrawled on Christian houses, designating them as “Nazarene.” ISIS declared that any women left behind would now be considered Muslims. They were taken as slaves and forced to cover themselves in the strictest Islamist manner. More than 70% of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country since 2003, and none are left in Mosul.

The Christians exiled from Mosul have not gone quietly. They have joined forces with their natural allies—the moderate Muslims who also suffer under ISIS rule. Rayan Al-Kildani, determined to reclaim his homeland, joined with 1,000 other Iraqi Christians to form the Babylonian Brigades, which fights alongside the Popular Mobilization Forces—a moderate Muslim militia backed by the Iraqi government—to defeat ISIS. Al-Kildani doesn’t see religious differences as barriers to peaceful coexistence. "ISIS terrorists do not differentiate among Christians, Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites—they kill everyone," Al-Kildani said. "We have to help our Muslim brothers liberate Iraq."

State-Sponsored Persecution in Iran

Across the border in Iran, the government persecutes religious minorities. While the treatment of the Baha’i attracts the most attention, Iranian Christians also face great adversity. Since 2010, Iran has arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 500 Christians. At the beginning of 2015, approximately 90 Iranian Christians were being held by the government because of their religious beliefs and activities. Last Christmas, Iranian authorities raided churches across the country and arrested worshippers. And while journalist Jason Rezaian and Amir Hekmati are the most commonly mentioned names of Americans imprisoned in Iran, Saeed Abedini is also being held because Iran considers his choice to convert from Islam to Christianity and work as a pastor a crime.

This Christmas, join our pledge to spread awareness about the plight of Christians in the Middle East and beyond so that next Christmas, the world will be a more tolerant place.

Date: 12/22/2015
3 Ways Iran Squandered Its Fresh Start

Let’s give Iran a fresh start.

Instead of harking back to its past crimes—like when a terror proxy murdered 299 U.S. and French servicemen in their barracks in Beirut, or when another in Argentina slaughtered 85 civilians and maimed hundreds more in a blast at a Buenos Aires Jewish community center, or when, according to a new UN report, Tehran worked on developing nuclear weapons to facilitate even more devastating attacks on free society—let’s set Iran’s horrific prior offenses aside.

Let’s focus instead on what Iran has done only since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or the “Iran Deal”) was announced on July 14.

Missile Test

We begin with the news of the day. The UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Iran has concluded that a ballistic missile test conducted by Iran this past October violated Security Council Resolution 1929, which banned Iranian missile tests.

The panel found that “the launch of the Emad [missile] has a range of not less than 1,000 km with a payload of at least 1,000 kg,” and therefore is considered a launch “using ballistic missile technology.” In other words, just two months ago Iran tested a missile with at least enough range to reach...

Date: 12/16/2015
The Future of France: Four Questions with AJC’s Simone Rodan Benzaquen

On Sunday, France held the final round of its regional elections. We discussed the outcomes with Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, the Paris-based director of AJC Europe.
Q: So France’s local elections have concluded and the ultra-nationalist National Front didn’t win any regions; crisis averted, right?

A: This is good news, but it is a pyrrhic victory, as the National Front (FN) won many seats on regional councils across the country. This is the best showing that FN has ever achieved in an election. The traditional parties need to see this as a warning sign and address some of the very clear concerns French voters have: from the radical Islamist threat, to security, to the role of Europe in their lives.
Q: When Marine Le Pen runs for president in 2017, can she win?

A: Every survey in the past year has indicated that Marine Le Pen will be in first place after the first round of the presidential election of 2017; FN’s lackluster finish this week does nothing to avert that possibility. In the runoff that will ensue, polls say her competitor will undoubtedly be elected the next French president.
In France, the majority remains united against FN ideology, and many individuals will vote even against their own political inclinations to ensure an FN loss. This is what happened in Sunday’s elections when Socialists crossed the aisle to vote for Republicans in order to prevent an FN victory. They know that Marine Le Pen as French president would be a tragedy. Her party’s platform is based on discrimination and social exclusion on the basis of nationality. Not only is this offensive to French values, but it also would...

Date: 12/16/2015
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