Why should it matter if a nearly 2,000-year-old way of life practiced by millions is being exterminated and no one will do anything to halt it?
Perhaps because it teaches a wider lesson about what the civilized world faces when it confronts rampant Islamic extremism.
In much of Iraq and Syria today, millions of Christians, whose ancestral presence there predates current Muslim majorities by centuries, are being scrubbed out of their homes.
But, while some in the wider church and the media are paying attention, getting war-weary Western nations to take effective action seems impossible. Even humanitarian aid isn’t being widely discussed.
Iraq and Syria aren’t alone: Christians in Pakistan have long faced persecution, and in Egypt, members of the ancient Coptic faith, about 10 percent of the population, saw hundreds of their members beaten and killed and ancient shrines and churches destroyed during the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi.
Since Morsi’s overthrow a year ago by a military junta that cracked down on the Brotherhood (which has ties to the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza), those attacks have slackened.
But in Syria, the patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church estimates that 25 percent of his country’s 2 million refugees are Christian. They are fleeing a civil war between various Muslim rebel forces (some of whom have targeted Christians) and the government of dictator Bashar al-Assad that has caused an estimated 170,000 deaths.
In Iraq, attacks on the nation’s original 1.5 million Christians swelled in the turmoil that followed the U.S. invasion in 2003, and then subsided as a tenuous stability returned.
But that has vanished in areas conquered by the Sunni extremists of ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who have proclaimed a “caliphate” across a wide swath of territory.
In the ancient city of Mosul, a July 19 Agence France Presse story said that ISIL has painted the letter “N” (for “Nazarene”) on Christian homes for looting or destruction (Shiite homes get an “R,” for “Rejecter”).
AFP cited one Mosul holdout: “For Christian Fadi and his young family, it is a lonely wait to see whether they will be executed soon. … Along with the rest of the city’s estimated 25,000 Christians who had not already fled years of kidnappings, bombings and shootings, Sunni militants gave 36-year-old Fadi, his wife and son until Saturday to comply with a brutal ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay an unspecified tax, leave the city or die.”
However, Fadi said he wouldn’t leave: ” ‘I’m staying. I already feel dead,’ Fadi, a teacher, told AFP by telephone moments before the deadline ran out. ‘Only my soul remains, and if they want to take that I don’t have a problem,’ he added.”
Later reports say Mosul is now nearly empty of Christians, but “The heinous crime of (ISIL) was carried out not just against Christians, but against humanity,” said Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, as quoted by Reuters.
According to AsiaNews, some Muslims in Baghdad expressed solidarity with Mosul’s Christians, displaying signs saying, “My house is open for my Christian brothers and sisters” and “I am an Iraqi Christian.”
Still, more than 1 million Christians have fled Iraq since 2003, leaving only about 400,000 after the last U.S. forces abandoned Iraq two years ago. Many who remain fear for their future, according to a July 21 column in The London Telegraph.
Author Tim Stanley, a U.S. historian, wrote that a British Jewish leader, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “has compared the suffering of Middle East Christians with Jewish pogroms in Europe and reminded everyone of the words of Martin Luther King: ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ ”
Most of the Syrian refugees have found refuge in Jordan, where a moderate ruler still holds sway, and many of Mosul’s Christians have sought safety in Kurdish areas north of the city.
The Kurds are moderate Muslims, too, and have their own reasons to resist ISIL while maintaining distance from Baghdad.
But other than leaders like Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, few in the West have spoken out, and no one has acted.
“It would indeed be awful,” Stanley wrote, “to think that the West might remain silent as violence rages purely out of a failure to recognize that Christians can be victimized, or out of a reluctance to cast aspersions on certain brands of Islam.”
Across the Middle East, a long history of hard-won co-existence faces extinction from a belief system devoted to domination, and this time in control of an “Islamic state.” Will it again strike us directly, as it did 13 years ago this Sept. 11?
And we haven’t even mentioned what will happen when Iran gets nuclear weapons.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: