Silence as Christians are Persecuted

 

EL PAÍS
David Harris
October 1, 2013

 

On September 22, dozens of Christian worshipers were killed at a church in Pakistan. Many more were wounded. The assailants were jihadist suicide bombers. This was not the first attack on the small Christian community in Pakistan.

In Egypt, repeated deadly assaults have targeted Coptic Christian churches.Some members of this ancient faith group, convinced they have no future in the Arab world’s most populous nation, have emigrated.

In Iraq, the Chaldean Christian population has dwindled in recent years. Persecution at the hands of Islamist groups has been a key factor driving people out.

In Nigeria, periodic attacks by radical Muslim groups on Christian worshipers and their churches have brought widespread death and destruction.

In Turkey, the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate has had to face one bureaucratic roadblock after another.

In Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, many Greek Orthodox churches have been destroyed or otherwise desecrated since the Turkish army first invaded in 1974.

And in Sudan, until the break-up of the country in 2011 that brought the nation of South Sudan into existence, millions of Christians in the south were targeted by the Muslim north, resulting in an unimaginably high death toll.

This is an incomplete list, but it should be more than enough to alarm the world, and especially, I would have thought, the Christian world. But, alas, with a few notable exceptions, there has been silence.

As a Jew, I find this silence unfathomable.

We Jews know quite well that the sin of silence is not a solution to acts of oppression.

And that applies not only to the obvious example of the Holocaust, but also to the postwar plight of Jews in several Muslim-majority countries.

There were once nearly a million Jews in these lands, but today there are fewer than 50,000.

Jewish communities from Iraq to Libya, from Egypt to Yemen, were driven out, while those in Turkey and Iran are but a shadow of their former selves.

As this was taking place, the world was largely indifferent.

The UN never met in emergency session. The media barely devoted any attention. Diplomats in Brussels and elsewhere hardly gave it a second thought. And, by the way, the churches were not heard from, either.

As the surviving Jews left North Africa and the Muslim Middle East, the world averted its eyes. But now the Jews aren’t available for their “convenient” role as scapegoats, so the dubious honor falls to the Christians (and, in Iran, to the Baha’i). Could it be possible that the world once again remains asleep in the face of murderous attacks, widespread fear, and declining numbers?

I asked a well-placed Christian prelate why the muted reaction, why the failure to take to the streets, demand action of Western governments, and demonstrate solidarity with co-religionists.

His answer was revealing.

He said that targeted Christian communities might face still more danger if voices are raised. But what has been achieved by yielding to intimidation, except for still more attacks?

He also noted that some Christians in the West didn’t identify with Christians of different sects, such as Copts, Chaldeans, or Greek Orthodox. But this is hardly a justification. Is righteous anger only to be unleashed if “membership criteria” are met?

And third, he felt the most important thing Western societies could to was to set an example for the Islamic world by treating minority communities, particularly Muslims, well.

Yes, it is to the credit of democratic nations that they judge themselves by how they respect minorities. When we fall short, we know we must improve.

But, as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after meeting a delegation of Arab ambassadors who complained about the treatment of Muslims in France, France must do better, but France also expects “reciprocity.”

In other words, it is the height of hypocrisy for Arab leaders to criticize Western countries for perceived injustices, while perpetrating those very injustices – and more – in their own lands. If a mosque can be built in Paris, surely a church should not be banned in Riyadh.

How many more attacks like the one in Pakistan, how many more dead worshipers, how many more destroyed churches, and how many more families need to flee before the world finds its voice, summons its moral outrage, demands more than fleeting statements of anguish by officials, and stands with those Christian communities in danger?

David Harris is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee (www.ajc.org).

Media Inquiries

212-891-6771 / bandlerk@ajc.org