It’s time for journalists, human rights activists and church leaders in the U.S. to confront the prospect of Christianity’s destruction in the region of its birth.
That’s the message that came out of a one-day conference that took place in Framingham, Massachusetts on Jan. 21, 2012. The conference, titled The Persecuted church: Christian Believers in Peril in the Middle East was sponsored by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2012.
Andrea Levin, CAMERA’s executive director said the goal of the conference was to draw attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
“If the media shines a light consistently and clearly on the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians, that can make a crucial difference in restraining potential violence,” she said. “Silence on the other hand may do the opposite.”
Walid Phares, an American scholar born in Lebanon who advises the U.S. Congress on issues related to terrorism, said Christians and other minorities have been the victims of violence for decades. “I lived through it in the 20th century. Now we’re all living it, trying to witness for it,” he said. “We have crossed the threshold of a new century and yet it’s still happening.”
Attendees of the conference heard testimony from Juliana Taimoorazy, founder of the Iraqi Christian relief council and Egyptian human rights activists Cynthia Farahat. Taimoorazy, who reported on the plight of Assyrians in Israq stated that since June 2004, churches in Iraq have been bombed more than 80 times. Sometimes, multiple churches would be bombed at the same time as part of a coordinated attack.
“Most of these attacks happened on Fridays, marking the day of Islamic prayer,” she said. Clergy have been routinely kidnapped and killed on a regular basis. Even children have been killed by Islamists, Taimoorazy reported.
“In October of 2006 – in the 21st century – a 14-year-old boy was crucified in Basra, in the center of the city,” she said.
Farahat reported that Copts are second-class citizens in their homeland
“But for me, as a woman and a Copt, I am a fourth-class citizen,” she said. “The first class citizen is the Egyptian Sunni Muslim male, the second class is the Sunni female. The third is the Christian male. The fourth is the Christian female. I’m a fourth-class Egyptian citizen with absolutely no legal rights.”
The plight of religious and ethnic minorities in Muslim and Arab majority countries in the Middle East has largely been ignored because of an obsession with the Arab-Israeli conflict, Phares said during his keynote address. Phares first witnessed this after immigrating to the U.S. from Lebanon in the 1990s.
“In the 1990s, if there as an incident in the West Bank, the son-in-law, the mom, the uncle of both sides would be interviewed and the psychologists would come in and talk about the deep roots of the conflict,” Phares said. “At the same time, two villages were burned in Egypt or the Kurds would be gassed. Zero [coverage] in the New York Times.”
Franck Salameh, assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies at Boston College, echoed Phares’ complaint.
“There’s clearly a prevailing hierarchy in the media’s treatment of Middle Eastern violence,” he said. “Some victims get airtime on prime time, all the time. Others simply don’t. Middle Eastern Christians are not a top priority. Those uncouth, cross-wearing primitives are not cause for curiosity. They are too Christian in a world plagued by political correctness, cultural relativism and a false conception fo the Middle East as an Arab Muslim preserve.”
Documenting attacks on Near Eastern minorities is not fashionable, Salameh said, because it is viewed as being anti-Arab and anti-Muslim and part of a Western attempt to divide a cultural and linguistic monolith. If this thinking were applied to North America, no one would talk about the plight or fate of Native Americans because it would be regarded as subversive to the Anglo-European paradigm.
“Middle Eastern minorities, Christians and Jews, are the native Americans of the Middle East,” Salameh said. “The dominant Arab-Muslim culture is indeed the colonizing intruder culture here.”
Richard Landes, associate professor of history at Boston University and author of Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millenial Experience reported that Islamists have worked assiduously to disarm Westerners by engaging in cognitive warfare against democracies. This cognitive warfare is pursued, Landes explained, by using self-criticism and concern for the other to undermine the ability of democracies to defend themselves. “The purpose of cognitive warfare is to turn your own people into patriots and your enemies into pacifists,” Landes said.
This strategy has had “staggering success” over the past few years, he said. The success is due to “an unholy marriage between pre-modern sadism and post modern masochism,” Landes said.
“The pre-moderns accuse us of the most vicious things in the world and we say, ‘You’re right, I’m sorry,” Landes joked.