Nina Shea’s year-end review in World Affairs analyzes the rising Islamist threat to Christians in the Middle East as the Islamic State terrorist group conquers land and gains influence.
In a brief, nationally televised announcement on August 7th regarding the Islamic State, which invaded the multicultural, northern Nineveh Province of Iraq this summer, President Obama observed that “these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yazidis.”
The brutal persecution of Iraq’s non-Muslim religious groups is part of a human rights atrocity that is as grave as it is overlooked in American foreign policy. The president’s eight-and-a-half-minute speech hardly scratched the surface. In fact, what the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, is undertaking in Iraq, as part of its effort to establish an Islamic caliphate, is a religious cleansing intended to eradicate the entire presence of the country’s non-Muslim citizens. Nor is this campaign restricted to Iraq. Similar campaigns are under way in other countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. They are being carried out by a multitude of extremist groups and directed against a variety of minorities, although they are directed most commonly and with special zeal against Christian communities that in some cases have coexisted with Muslims for more than a thousand years. Militant groups such as the Islamic State are mostly to blame, but extremist influences have also gained official footing within some governments. In most places where religious oppression of Christians is taking place, Christians and other targeted religious communities find that their governments typically turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to their plight.
In Iraq and Syria, for example, the two-thousand-year-old Christian communities are facing an intense wave of religious persecution that has led to a panicked exodus of their members from the region. Even before this past summer’s attack by the Islamic State on the Christian centers of Mosul, Qaraqosh, and all other Nineveh towns, leaders of the Iraqi church reported that one million, or between one-half and two-thirds of their community, have fled the country since 2003.
Last year, Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East, observed: “Behind the daily reporting about bombs there is an ethno-religious cleansing taking place, and soon Syria can be emptied of its Christians.”
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