It seems to me that we are witnessing one of the largest mass movements of humanity since the “boat people” exodus from Vietnam some forty years ago. The media is full of compelling pictures and stories depicting individuals and families by the thousands daily fleeing war-torn Syria and other mid-east countries in the anticipation of a better life in Europe.
A number of countries, led by Germany, have agreed to accept hundreds of thousands of these refugee Muslims and our country has also announced we will increase the number we will admit but only after a screening process designed to prevent Islamic militants from entering.
What I find interesting in this deluge of reporting about Muslims on the move, however, is the almost total absence of information about the fate of Christians — where are they? What’s happening to them? Their fate doesn’t make the news.
Well, according to Open Doors International, a charity that supports Christians under pressure for their faith, “During the most recent period, more Christians were killed in Syria alone than were killed globally in the previous year.”
Christians in Syria find themselves in the crossfire of the multi-year war involving President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters such as Russia and various rebel groups attempting to depose him. Christians, who are almost entirely non-combatants, have been the victims of bombings that have destroyed countless churches and entire neighborhoods in their cities throughout the country.
In addition, Christians in Syria have also been heavily targeted by the Islamic State terror group ISIS, which has kidnapped hundreds of Assyrian men in numerous raids, demanding huge ransoms for the victims and threatening the women with being turned into sex slaves.
According to the Catholic Herald “As many as 450,000 Christian Syrians have fled their homes since 2011, and are now either internally displaced or living abroad as refugees. ” The Herald continues, “In areas under control of Islamic State, churches and monasteries are in general either demolished or used for other purposes. It is practically impossible to have any kind of church life in Islamic State held areas. Many Christians, but also other religious minorities like Yazidis and Shabaq, have been killed, abducted, and physically harmed. In areas held by the Islamic State, virtually the entire Christian community has disappeared.”
Christian leaders in the area have estimated that as many as 15,000 families in Syria are likely in danger from Islamic militants while noting that parishes are being emptied and Christianity is disappearing from the region. Not a pretty picture is it? But what about elsewhere in the region?
What’s it like for Christians in the battleground country of Iraq? Well, according to reporting by Open Doors International, “Persecution of Christians in Iraq increased in every sphere of life after the militants of Islamic State took numerous towns and cities across Iraq in June 2014, telling Christians they must leave, pay a tax for religious minorities, convert to Islam, or they would be killed. As a result many Christians fled, and many are still displaced.”
Estimates of the total number of Christians killed range from around 7,000 or 8,000 according to the International Institute for Religious Freedom to the 100,000 estimate by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity — but nobody knows for sure because there are no Christian “body counts” in Muslim countries.
You know, seeing the multitudes of Muslims fleeing other Muslims in Syria and Iraq and receiving aid from predominantly Christian countries such as Germany and France a body just can’t help but wonder what’s being done to assist Christians fleeing deadly persecution for their faith. The Administration in Washington has announced we would accept a greater number of Muslim refugees but has remained silent on accepting Christians. Why accept Muslims who must be screened for possible terrorists and not also Christians who pose no such threat?
I recall how this country responded to the exodus from Vietnam with communities, led primarily by churches, accepting thousands of displaced families.
Our relatively small congregation sponsored two such families and we were not the only church to do so. Why not allow Non-Government-Organizations organize a humanitarian effort to assist Christians fleeing the wrath of Islamic extremists? It would be the American thing to do – and might tend to balance the Administration’s obvious support of Islam. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]