Middle East cultures under attack
Throughout the chaos, calamity and conflict which has befallen the Middle East, there are few groups which have come under such intense attack as Christians and minority ethnic communities. As countries like Iraq and Syria face the sharp end of ethnic and political strife, the persecution of small but significant Christian communities by terrorist elements such as Islamic State has tragically followed. This deadly plague of religious persecution has spilled over into neighboring countries including Libya and Egypt.
In the vast “cradle of civilization,” that extraordinary historic region following the Tigris River in Iraq, the contemporary flow of events includes the Islamic State (IS) horde that kills and imprisons Christians and the Yazidi minority. IS smashes and pillages the museums and the archaeological sites, and they instill fear and intimidation which seems to hark from another dark age.
To its credit, France, which has close and historic ties to Eastern Christian communities, sponsored an open U.N. Security Council meeting to openly and frankly discuss the victims of attacks and abuses on ethnic and religious grounds in the Middle East. Needing such a debate in 2015 would seem as improbable in our smugly satisfied world as it is necessary precisely because our smugness and political dysfunction has allowed the chaos to transpire in the first place.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius began his statement candidly: “Make no mistake, In the Middle East we are facing a barbaric, systematic process of ethnic and religious eradication. Although the majority of the jihadi terrorists’ victims are Muslim, non-Muslim communities are priority targets. ”
Fabius added that IS terrorists, or Da’esh as they are known in the region, have targeted Christians, Yazidis and Kurds, “all are threatened with the same triangle of horror: forced ment, or death.”
Louis Raphel Sako, the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon called the situation for minorities “catastrophic,” adding “the so-called Arab Spring impacted negatively on us.”
During the last century, the number of Christians in the Middle East had fallen from 30 percent to a tiny 5 percent.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned, “Thousands of civilians are at the mercy of the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) or Da’esh. Its fighters are systematically killing ethnic and religious minorities, those who disagree with its warped interpretation of Islam, and anyone who opposes its apocalyptic vision.”
Yet, Egypt’s Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta put the matter succinctly that Christians were an integral part of the fabric of the Middle East and of his country.
current carnage in key Middle Eastern countries especially Iraq, Syria and Libya may presage the near total disappearance of the ancient Christian communities from the region. Importantly the latest report from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is stark; namely that ISIL may have committed all three of the most serious international crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz added that the IS actions must be named as war crimes and genocide and must not go unpunished. He called for the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ambassador Boguslaw Winid of Poland put the current crisis into a larger historical perspective, warning that “The history of the twentieth century teaches about the need to act in the face of similar developments to prevent even bigger-scale atrocities.”
The Holy See delegate Archbishop Bernardito Auza conveyed Pope Benedict XVI’s support for the concept of “responsibility to protect,” and Pope Francis’ call for the international community to “do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.”
Though many high-level delegations from U.N. member states addressed the Security Council meeting at the foreign minister level, the United States failed to send U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power (Secretary Kerry was busy negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran) or a high ranking member of the State Department. Why? Religious strife has a political component; states had better find a political solution. John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Divided Dynamism: the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China” (2014).