In summer 2014, ISIS waged a bloody blitz through Iraq’s Nineveh province, crucifying, beheading, raping, torturing, forcibly converting to Islam, and driving out every member of the region’s 2000-year-old Christian community. Christian girls, as young as three, were sold at ISIS sex slave markets in Mosul. Ancient churches were burned and ISIS attacked dozens of Christian towns in Syria. The beheading in 2015 of 21 Egyptian Copts on a Libyan beach, who died with the Lord’s Prayer on their lips, was videotaped by ISIS and became a searing, iconic symbol of this wave of persecution that threatens to eradicate Christianity in the Middle East. Many in the West, even Christians, remain unaware of the scale of this persecution, and even fewer know what can be done about it.
Inspired by Pope Francis’s denunciation of these acts as “genocide,” a group of Catholic legal scholars, writers, and theologians began work on The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East. Its case studies focus on persecuted Christians, but its analysis equally applies to the other victims. In the United States, military and diplomatic responses are contemplated and sometimes undertaken. But what about the legal system? Are there things we can or should be trying? That question animates this book as it explores various facets of religious persecution, examining ISIS’s ideology and its relationship to Islam as practiced by most Muslims. Practical, relevant, and rich in ideas, this book addresses the most crucial religious freedom issue of our day. It is a primer for Christians, students of international human rights, and all concerned about religious persecution.
July 28, 2017 • Stephen Herreid • Acton Institute
A book about religious persecution is perhaps an unusual place to find a call for Western rejuvenation. Yet readers of The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East: Prevention, Prohibition, and Prosecution, edited by Ronald J. Rychlak and Jane F. Adolphe, will discover within its many detailed and expert chapters a special call for the West to live up to its own heritage.
While the collection of essays addresses the persecution of Christians throughout the world, this review will focus on its Middle Eastern observations, while commending readers to avail themselves of its many other insights into the oppression and persecution of Christians elsewhere.
Christian persecution: Ancient hatred, modern export
In her introductory essay, Nina Shea makes clear that the brutal persecution of Christians in the Middle East began long before the rise of ISIS. Her expert findings are enhanced by the fact that she took pains to seek and report the perspective of local Christian clergy and laity who know the persecution firsthand. Their stories are heartrending, and their plight beyond adequate description.
What Christians face is not just one evil faction embodied by ISIS, but a pervasive Islamist sentiment among local Muslims exploding at times in such varied forms as the assassination of clergy, the desecration of churches, and the enslavement of women, all of which are perpetrated specifically for “religious” reasons. Most of the jihadist rebel groups who claim responsibility for these atrocities have only recently morphed into ISIS. Yet Shea makes clear that their destructive mission predates the proclamation of the new caliphate.
Shea’s chapter, especially, deserves commendation for its eyewitness accounts of persecution, which are bafflingly absent from the international mass media coverage of the “rebel” groups and “uprisings.” The fact that these realities are not widely reported or robustly addressed by Western governments is indicative of a double standard that severely hampers the battle against Salafi-jihadi extremism.
Just as Shea’s quotations of Christian victims and surviving leaders is invaluable, so are Geoffrey Strickland’s reliance on direct citations of ISIS’s public pronouncements. Their total ideological commitment to a genocidal cause is, as Strickland writes, “haunting.” In their worldview, every brutality they inflict is not only justified, but proudly proclaimed. ISIS often goes so far as to favorably compare its criminal acts to the immorality of “infidels.” Rape? They compare it to Western pop culture and prostitution (p. 196).
Almost as disturbing are Strickland’s examples of mainstream Islamic failures to sufficiently repudiate some of ISIS’s central tenets. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while it has officially denounced ISIS, continues its ban on the building of churches within its borders. The country’s Grand Mufti recently called for the destruction of more Christian churches. Strickland writes:
“In addition, there are reports “of state-approved primary and secondary school textbooks” that teach “that Christians are enemies of the Muslims and that there is perpetual clash with them; that the Crusades have not ended and the ‘Crusader Threat’ continues; that the life of a Christian is worth a fraction of that of a free Muslim male; that Christians are swine; and that Muslims are to hate Christians.”
Disseminating this information is left to Western Christian organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, and many others, which make a point of applying Christian principles to the plight of the persecuted, and sharing eyewitness accounts with the American public and Western governments. It is perhaps in part thanks to their robustly religious worldview that they are able to clearly identify the specifically “religious” ideology of Islamism, which Robert A. Destro carefully defines as a Salafist-jihadi ideology in his own chapter.
Destro, in a perceptively analytical essay, concurs with Shea that ISIS is not a well-contained, singular threat, but rather one front in a global movement. He recommends a comprehensive analysis of what he terms the “malevolent threat matrix” — the global, ideologically coherent system of support that connects the dots linking criminal terrorism across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean – from Mosul, to Paris, to Miami.
Using his malevolent threat matrix, the U.S. would be able to identify a wide support network for Salafi-Jihadi terrorism that includes material supporters — including donors, bankers, and nations like Turkey and Saudi Arabia — and logistical supporters such as the recruiters. Those who radicalize Muslims into violent fundamentalism often do so under the guise of prison chaplaincies, madrassas (Muslim schools), and mosques, not only in the Middle East, but in Western Europe and the United States.
Textbooks such as those disseminated in Saudi Arabia, Strickland writes, “are distributed throughout the Saudi public school system, including to academies it runs in many capitals of nations throughout the world, and to other Islamic schools globally.” An ideological storm is brewing.
Applying Western legal and moral thought to the threat of Islamism
As Kevin H. Govern points out in his essay, transatlantic nations and their allies (and potential allies) in the Middle East are extremely well-equipped for an ideological confrontation with global Islamist jihad. Most of the remaining essays of this book accentuate traditions of thought, from the Catholic Church’s history of teachings on religious tolerance, to the twentieth century United Nations and its many pronouncements on the dignity and protection of vulnerable minorities. From the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the many declarations bolstering the rights of minorities, women, and children, the modern world abounds with the legal and moral wherewithal needed in the fight against ISIS. The humanity of the West, and the indefensible barbarism of Salafism, could not be more clearly contrasted.
“Imagine if the Pope today called for the destruction of all the mosques in Europe,” Strickland writes. “Even more absurdly, imagine if the Vatican today issued official educational materials teaching that the life of a Muslim is worth a fraction of that of a free Christian male, Muslims are swine, and Christians are to hate Muslims?”
It is heartening that the suggestion of a pope denigrating Muslims is, as Strickland puts it, “absurd” to Western Christians. Yet it only sounds absurd against the backdrop of a highly sophisticated civilization with Judeo-Christian respect for human dignity at its heart.
There are encouraging signs that Western liberty, when defended, can move mainstream Islam to distance itself from jihadism and respect human rights. In 2000, members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation “officially resolved to support the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, wherein persons have [the] ‘freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah,’ without any discrimination on grounds of ‘race, colour, language, sex, religious belief, political affiliation, social status or other considerations,’” Govern writes.
The West must be the West again
The book’s last essay (and its most accessible to the layman), written by Ave Maria Radio’s Al Kresta, presents a cogent analysis and call-to-arms for readers.
First, Western media, legislators, and officials exhibit an appalling lack of urgency in response to the persecution of Christians, especially in the Middle East. Kresta recounts activist Michael Horowitz’s story of a Clinton State Department official spurning his pleas on behalf of oppressed Christians. “Don’t you understand how divisive this is?” the dignitary asked. Human rights advocate Nina Shea had no better luck when she approached George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who dismissed her pleas by saying, “We can’t be sectarian.”
Second, Western Christians are also mostly silent, due to a prevailing ignorance of the persecution of their suffering brethren, and to a lack of unity between Christian denominations. If Western Christians were both aware of and united against anti-Christian bigotry and terrorism, Kresta argues, they could present a united front and move national powers toward effective action. Catholic and other Christian researchers ultimately presented the U.S. government with an ultimatum which compelled President Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, to officially designate ISIS’s warfare against Christians, Yazidis, and other Middle Eastern religious minorities as a “genocide.”
Kresta drives home his central argument by quoting Dr. Timothy Shah’s presentation at the 2015 conference titled “Under Ceasar’s Sword,” where scholars presented their findings of the persecution of Christians in some 30 countries:
“[We] cannot subcontract our sense of solidarity with fellow Christians to the government. If we Christians are not on our knees, if we Christians are not mobilizing our parishes, it is a gross hypocrisy to expect our government to do something. If we were to do teachings in our churches, if we were to insist that our priests preach about this issue, if we were to insist that our ‘prayers to the faithful’ contain not just a phrase but a few sentences invoking God’s protection of fellow Christians, we would see these governments acting.” In other words, if fellow Christians do not behave as though persecution is a primary concern, why should we expect the world’s Ceasars to appropriately value it?
Christians should be valued for their own human worth, as well as their incalculable contribution to modern concepts like religious liberty and tolerance. The West applies legal precepts equally to members of all religions. Freedom of conscience and the inviolable dignity of the individual stand at the heart of 2,000 years of Western intellectual, moral, and philosophical development.
What Kresta’s exhortation amounts to is a call for Western Christians to recover that heritage, and to put it into full effect against the rise of anti-Christian, and anti-human, persecution.
The other essays of this invaluable book demonstrate that this approach has already been effective. The great question before the people of the West is whether we have the strength and wisdom to continue on – or return to – that path. The survival of the Church in the Middle East may very well depend upon it.
March 27, 2018 • Jared Staudt • Denver Catholic
Genocide is a serious accusation. Many people have spoken of an ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East as genocide, a claim that has clear backing in international law. The United Nations defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” In 2016 the State Department and both houses of Congress declared that ISIS, in particular, was committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities.
On average, it is estimated that 7-8,000 Christians are martyred each year, according to the International Society for Human Rights (though larger estimates take broader warfare and ethnic conflicts into consideration, especially in Africa.). Nine of the top ten offending countries with the highest rates of Christian persecution are found either in the Middle East or in neighboring countries. With the rise of ISIS, persecution reached a particularly intense moment, though under the Trump administration their territory has shrunk dramatically. Nonetheless, the centuries long trajectory of eliminating the Christian population of the Middle East continues.
The Persecution and Genocide of Christian in the Middle East, edited by Ronald Rychlak and Jane Adolphe (Angelico, 2017), provides a systematic overview of the historical, religious, legal, and social forces behind the persecution of Christians. The book collects proceedings from a conference held in Rome, “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christians Respond to Persecution,” co-sponsored by Notre Dame and Georgetown, as well as contributions from other scholars and experts. The book provides a comprehensive overview of the issues faced by persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
The chapter “Historical and Theological Reflections on Persecuted Christians,” by Robert Fastiggi, provides a good starting point for understanding the state of Christian in the Middle East. It describes how the Christian community fell from a strong majority following Islamic conquest to a small minority in the present day. The Islamic population increased gradually for centuries, but it was not until the late 900s that sustained violent persecution began, inspiring the Crusades. From that point on, Christianity fell into a steady decline: from 21 to 3.4 million between 1200 and 1500 alone, followed by even more aggressive persecution from the Turks (103-04). Major massacres occurred in 1895 and during World War I, especially the Armenia Genocide. Fastiggi notes how Christians fell from 10 to 3% of the Middle East’s population in the twentieth century alone (110).
After this long period of decline, the Iraq War and the civil war in Syria may have set off the final elimination of Christians from many parts of the Middle East. The book details the tactics used by ISIS and other radical groups to commit genocide: sexual violence, torture, financial extortion (falsely portrayed as the jizya tax), and outright murder. It also describes the efforts and many failures of the international community to address the problem. The Holy See, for its part, has supported Christian refugees, encouraged prayer and fasting, organized diplomatic meetings, and even cautiously supported military intervention (254-57).
The final chapter, by radio host Al Kresta, reflects on how “Christians in the West can respond” in solidarity with persecuted Christians (364). The issue of religious liberty should unite all people of good will, as threats to religious expression are common throughout the world, especially in China and North Korea, but increasingly in the West. Christians throughout the world need to overcome a “lack of urgency” and even indifference to religious persecution. Even though ISIS has been largely subdued, Christians still suffer disproportionately in the Middle East from violence and displacement and remain extremely vulnerable. One concrete way to support them financially comes from the papal agency, the Christian Near East Welfare Association (www.cnewa.org).
September 28, 2017 • Michael Duggan • Catholic Herald
Genocide means action taken with the intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Pope Francis (“I insist on the word”) and others have concluded that what is being done to Christians in the Middle East meets this definition.
In the very lands where the faith was born and first took root, the Christian population appears to be dropping like a stone. One thinks of the terrible fate of the 22 Christians beheaded on a beach in Libya with their final whispered Lord’s Prayers audible on the video released by ISIS. Or Christian refugees in places such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, who have no resettlement rights and eschew UN camps because of discrimination and persecution by other refugees. Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan of the Syriac Catholic Church sees Christians in the Middle East “engulfed by a nightmare that has no end”.
This collection of essays is designed to shine a light on how the world could or should respond, particularly through diplomatic and legal means.
Robert Fastiggi provides a useful account of the historical persecution of Christians by different regimes: pagan, religious and secular. He pins the growth of Islamist radicalism on the rise of Western political supremacy, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The Muslim world, he claims, “had been nurtured for years by a mindset of religious and cultural superiority”. As reality continues to bite, Fastiggi implies, one reaction has been to bite back.
Jane Adolphe notes the frequent absence from much public and media discussion of any mention of the Christian faith of victims of contemporary persecution and, in particular, its absence from the discussion of widespread and systematic sexual violence. For example, six UN special rapporteurs made a joint statement deploring the abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram. The statement did not mention that the girls were Christian and the special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief was not one of the signatories.
Any attempt to respond to persecution because of faith through legal means, Adolphe stresses, “requires the prior acknowledgement that the problem exists”. But, as Al Kresta puts it, “in spite of being rich in suspense, sacrificial love, bloodshed, and heroic courage, these stories of modern martyrdom and persecution have not captured the imagination of our political and media elite”. He argues that disunity among Christians has also played a large part in the underwhelming response to the crisis.
Adolphe’s essay highlights facets of the problem that are utterly chilling: women’s bodies being seen as “biological weapons” with which to populate a territory and control a population; a New York Times writer suggesting that ISIS is enshrining a “theology of rape”; the use of sexual violence as an effective recruitment strategy for fighters; and price lists regulating the sale of women and girls in open slave markets and online.
Nina Shea pays particular attention to ISIS’s purported application of the jizya tax as evidence that it lacks the intention to commit genocide, but finds these claims wholly wanting. An essay about “moving past phobia”, a process which would include breaking the association of Islam with violence, is full of good and wise intentions. However, it cites several passages from the Koran that read like unambiguous commands to slay or enslave non-Muslims, while making no attempt to explain why these verses should be interpreted otherwise. One finishes the essay feeling rather marooned and that one is moving nowhere.
John Czarnetzky weighs in with an essay on the Holy See’s diplomatic response to the Syrian crisis as a whole, which is a useful primer on the structure and methods of Vatican diplomacy, a tribute to the successes Pope Francis has achieved, and a catalogue of the impasses which remain.
Essays on specific legal dimensions of the issue cover topics such as the potential use of the US Torture Act. Kevin Cieply provides a very clear and thorough exposition of international criminal law in which he observes that ISIS must first be brought to “unconditional military capitulation” before a legal response “has a chance to be effective”. This is followed by a similarly thorough exposition by Ronald Rychlak of the “failed promise” of the International Criminal Court.
There are, inevitably perhaps, instances of repetition in the collection and quality is not even throughout, though contributors do strive to maintain objectivity. In this, they have their work cut out. It is not easy to strike a balance between, on the one hand, conveying fully the horror of what is going on and displaying solidarity; and, on the other, conscientiously exploring, in the academic manner, the possible legal and policy responses, while also scratching about for some hope to offer. Measured sentences come dripping in blood. This is a book to be read with a clear mind and a heavy heart.
Review by Alistair Jones OP
2018 • Alistair Jones OP • New Blackfriars
On 25 November 2014, Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament and drew attention to the severe persecution of Christians and other religious minorities around the world:
Here I cannot fail to recall the many instances of injustice and persecution which daily afflict religious minorities and Christians in particular, in various parts of the world. Communities and individuals today find themselves subjected to barbaric acts of violence: they are evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many.
In the reporting of the speech in the mainstream media which followed, little was said about these particular comments, which sadly illustrates the point that was being made.
This era is probably the most violent for Christians in modern history. As has been patiently documented by the organizations who support them and advocate on their behalf, innumerable Christian communities are subject to rampant forms of intolerance, both religious and secular. The problem has got much worse since the turn of the millennium and Christians are more often under severe threat than any other faith group (see, for example, the data in Rupert Shortt, Christianophobia: a faith under attack (2013)). Therefore, one might expect this to have been for some time a major foreign policy concern for governments in many parts of the world. The fact that it has not been, helps reveal a persistent, powerful and rarely acknowledged hierarchy of victimhood.
As painfully detailed in this book, persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East has risen to levels approaching religio-ethnic cleansing. Although it is hoped that the dismantling of the Islamic State will offer some respite and the possibility of return to Iraq and Syria (something which is far from guaranteed), Christians continue to be killed or otherwise treated brutally and driven from their homes, in the lands which were some of the cradles of Christianity and where communities trace their histories back to the earliest church. Only recently have the sufferings, persecution and genocide of these Christians been admitted in certain quarters. That recognition has been the result of the tireless and courageous work of a handful of organizations and individuals, some of whom are contributors to this book.
In July 2015, it was again Pope Francis who was one of the first global leaders to use (and insist upon) the term ‘genocide’ with reference to the situation of persecuted Christians in areas of the Middle East. ‘Genocide’ is primarily a legal concept. It entails a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups. The legal concept is narrowly circumscribed and reserved for a particular subset of atrocities. For this reason, the legal concept has been criticized, because situations which cause dreadful suffering to many may nonetheless fall short of genocide and so not engage certain obligations under international law.
While many are aware of sporadic attacks against Christians in the Middle East, few properly appreciate that under ISIS a programme of total eradication was taking place. Nina Shea’s fine essay in this volume details the evidence that supports the view that – despite certain public statements to the contrary – ISIS in fact sought the complete elimination of Christians and other minorities from the lands of the caliphate. She describes what that programme meant for the people targeted. She also explains the obstacles that stood in the way of the eventual political designation by the United States, on 17 March 2016, of an ongoing genocide (for only the second time in the country’s history). Theoretically at least, this designation should have an ongoing positive effect of raising international awareness of what has been happening and compel other states to act.
This book is the fruit of an international expert meeting, organized under the auspices of the International Centre on Law, Life, Faith and Family. The participants included academics, politicians, lawyers, theologians, journalists and humanitarian relief workers, some of whom are leaders in their fields. The resulting collection of essays is not in any sense narrowly legal or technical. The majority of the essays are accessible to a general reader, although some background understanding of international law would be helpful for an understanding of a couple of the papers. The book offers a detailed, informed and often moving accounts of the situation of this religious minority in the region. Further essays provide depth of perspective by exploring relevant topics, such as the history of Christian persecution, the politics of genocide declarations, the theological meaning of religious freedom, sharia provisions affecting Christians (and, in particular, Christian women), and the international mechanisms by which those guilty of crimes may be brought to account. (The title is a little misleading in that the focus is in fact almost entirely on Iraq and Syria, and is not as exclusively legal as the subtitle may suggest.)
One obvious reason why the extent of the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world has not been revealed is that parts of the media and others have made the error of equating the criticism of some Muslims and certain interpretations of Islam with racism. This attitude has been cemented by the amazingly prevalent view that Christianity is somehow a ‘Western religion’. The current authors show courage in attempting to grapple with some of the thorny problems that arise in this context. How exactly do you characterize the nature of the threat that certain Islamic theologies pose? (The question is crucial if some kind of strategy is going to be developed to counter that specific threat.) What is the historical nature of Christian and Muslim co-existence, and what can be learned and applied from that? (A recurrent and chilling theme is the misconceptions that Westerners sometimes entertain about the realities of the special status Jews and Christians notionally enjoy as ‘People of the Book’.) The answers provided to some of these questions are necessarily introductory, but there is a commendable refusal to shirk the issues.
New Book Featuring Essays by Ave Maria School of Law Professors and a member of the Board of Governors
2017 • Ave Maria School of Law • Advocate Magazine
“The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East” (Angelico Press 2017) is a searing expose of this under-reported war on Christians waged by the Islamic State.
The book of thirteen essays was edited by Jane F. Adolphe, an Associate Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida, and an expert on international human rights with the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, Relations with States; along with Ronald J. Rychlak, a Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi and a member of the Ave Law Board of Governors.
“Using the Torture Act Against the Persecution of Christians” by Mark Healy Bonner, a professor at Ave Law, who specializes in international human rights, outlines how the Torture Act, signed by President Clinton in 1994, provides legal means for the United States to send offenders to prison, even when the torture occurs abroad. It was recently used successfully to convict and imprison a defendant in the U.S. for torturing people in Liberia. This act can be used against those who torture Christians in the Middle East. The Constitution authorizes Congress “to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high Seas and Offences against the Law of Nations.”
The Dean and President of Ave Maria School of Law, Kevin Cieply addresses, “International Criminal Law” in his essay, which details how the trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II laid the groundwork for the International Criminal Court based in The Hague, which hears crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In the Middle East, the situation is critical as non-Muslims in Syria and Iraq are being slaughtered, sexually violated, displaced and tortured. Combating ISIS should be a priority of the International Criminal Court, Cieply writes.
Professor Jane Adolphe explores “Sexual Violence as a Tactic of Terror: The Plight of Christian Women and Girls” and why many victims are reluctant to speak out because of religious norms and stigma and fear they will be rejected by their communities. It offers a case study on the enslavement of Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, which has waged a relentless war against Christians.
Professor Kevin H. Govern of Ave Law, whose expertise is International and Comparative Law, lays out how international law to protect Christians is evolving in “International Humanitarian Law: Five Dynamics.” These are: cyber security and its role in censorship on freedom of religion and speech; the fragmentation of states, particularly in the Middle East; the impact of massive waves of migration on religious freedoms; global economic strains; and enduring human development challenges that are part of the environment shaping overall U.S. foreign policy as well as other nations around the globe.
Professor Rychlak, who serves on the Ave Law Board of Governors and the Advisory Board for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, points out how the International Criminal Court has failed in its efforts to find justice for Christians persecuted by ISIS in “Persecution of Christians in the Middle East: The Failed Promise of the International Criminal Court.” The ICC was founded when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was established, but because neither Syria nor Iraq recognizes its authority it has not been able to combat the genocide of Christians by ISIS.
Articles Referring to the Book
November 27, 2017 • Kathryn Jean Lopez • National Review
Continuing the Christmas reality
It’s that time of year when, in the middle of Santa Claus festivities, unlikely gestures might include a hat tip to a baby born in Bethlehem or to his mother of Nazareth. This year, as Christians enter into the preparatory season of Advent (more than holiday-party time and gift-list making and buying beyond Black Friday), a coalition of Christian aid groups, in conjunction with the U.S. Catholic bishops, are holding a day of prayer and a week of awareness focused on the people who remain today in the region where Jesus Christ lived — people whose future remains uncertain.
The Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, is coming to the U.S., not for the first time in recent years. He insists that “the Middle East needs Jesus Christ,” as he told me the last time I sat down with him. That does not mean he is going to force Christianity on Muslims and Jews in the region, because that’s not the way of Jesus. But he does want to ask Americans to think differently about the region — as home to Christians, from the beginning of Christianity. He says:
“You don’t expect Muslims to carry on this good message of Jesus. So we have to help the Christians to stay. And not just to stay, but to live in a dignified way, and to be able to preach and to give Jesus. In the midst of all this violence, Jesus is needed.”
“A violent, troubled Middle East needs mercy,” Warda told me. “Jesus is mercy.” So many people there just want stability. They want to marry. They want a future for their children. “Enough of wars, enough of violence, enough of all these atrocities. We have to help people live a peaceful life. There’s no other choice.”
I’ve been thinking about our interview as I read a book of conference proceedings, The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East. In one of the chapters, Jane Adolphe, associate professor of law at Ave Maria School of Law and an expert with the Holy See, Secretariat of State, Relations with States, talks about the sexual violence that victims of terrorism experience — women and children in a particular way.
She notes that regional and international discussions of radical Islam and sexual violence often leave out the word “Christian,” but Adolphe points to the sexual enslavement of Christians by ISIS and notes in particular the kidnapping of 276 Christian schoolgirls from their dormitory beds at gunpoint in Nigeria by Boko Haram, as their school and village were torched. Some of the girls were subsequently left to die “defiled and bloody, tethered to a tree,” as one journalist put it. Others were “shot for being uncooperative and were buried in shallow graves.” Others became pregnant, “most if not all of them, suffer[ing] from psychological and physical injuries.” As we discuss all kinds of sexual assaults and misbehaviors here at home, surely we have time to remember them.
“The emphasis on Christian victims is not to suggest that in some way sexual violence against them is more egregious than sexual attacks on other groups, but rather to underline their plight, given certain misconceptions regarding them, coupled with the fact that in many incidents, Christians have deeper roots in a specific region than their criminal oppressors,” Adolphe notes. “Sexual violence has become a tactic of terror, and it is a mistake to believe that Christian women and children enjoy special protection.”
Warda does not want anyone to think of his people as victims, as helpless or hopeless.
Similarly, Warda does not want anyone to think of his people as victims, as helpless or hopeless. “This is the Church of the East — 2,000 years,” he says. “It’s a persecuted Church. It’s the church of martyrs. What surprised me is the care of God, his providence, such that whenever our people have asked me, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ I said, ‘Well, he was walking with you all the way and he is among you.’”
“The Christian martyr narrative,” Adolphe writes, “is correlated to the Passion of Christ, the courageous perseverance that is the path to everlasting life: ‘Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in Heaven’ (cf. Matthew 5:10–12).”
“Hope is not a concept to be understood,” Warda explains. “It’s a way of life. If we want to live in a peaceful community, then we have not to wait until then. We have to work from now. . . . So that’s the way we live. . . . We want to change the future, it starts now.”
A few good friends around the world would certainly help.
September 26, 2017 • Rome Reports
It has been more than three years since 276 school girls and boys were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. While many of them have been released, a case study has recently been conducted and published proving one of the underlying problems with terror against Christian women and children: silence.
Jane Adolphe, Author, Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East:
“My purpose behind the book was that there was a silence, almost internationally, a consensus on the silence of any harm being done to Christians. I think we’re all about being careful that we’re not shouting hate speech against any group. However, not to recognize and not to use the word ‘Christian’ is a problem internationally.”
By studying the Boko Haram case, Jane uncovered a certain silence that she says is present in many parts of the world. To break this silence, Jane published her findings in this book, “Genocide of Christians in the Middle East.” Along with 12 other contributors, the book tackles the many components of persecution from International Humanitarian Law to the Holy See’s Diplomatic Response to the problem.
Jane Adolphe, Author, Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East:
“I think what’s happening in our society is that there is an underlying assumption that it’s okay to hate Christians. They are being raped, they are being put into these slavery centers, sold off the Internet, etc. and we know that. So why aren’t we mentioning that?”
Jane says that in order to combat future and ongoing harm being done to Christian women and children, this stigma of silence needs to be broken so these school children can return home and others can be protected.