(Morning Star News) When Iran’s holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaims, “Israel must be wiped off the map,” the United States rightly takes the threat of genocide seriously. President Obama, like his predecessor, is committed to preventing the eradication of the people of Israel. Conservative U.S. Christian leadership, as reflected by Christians United for Israel, has strongly backed this commitment.
There is, however, another threat of genocide in the Middle East. It is the religious cleansing of Christians and other religious minorities from the Sunni-dominated Middle East. This danger remains unacknowledged by President Obama and has received little attention, with few exceptions, from U.S. Christian leadership on both the right the left.
Not so abroad. Already, last year, former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy drew the attention of the international community respectively to acts of “genocide” and “a perverse program of religious cleansing” directed at the Middle East’s 10-12 million Christians. Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly appeals for prayer and action on behalf of the region’s endangered Christian communities.
Today, the crisis of religious cleansing is particularly acute in Syria. The general chaos and confusion of civil war harms all Syrians irrespective of religion. But members of religious minorities – roughly 25 percent of the population – are targeted for murder, abduction, displacement and humiliation with increasing frequency and ferocity. Religious cleansing proceeds under the publicly proclaimed slogan, “Alawites [a branch of Shia Islam] to the grave, and Christians to Beirut!” – a proclamation, like President Ahmadinejad’s, of genocidal intent.
Evidence of the ascendancy of Muslim supremacy and jihadist ideology within Syria’s armed opposition grows more visible. The Islamist-dominated militias, with the lethal support of the United States’ closest regional Sunni allies – in particular Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – strive to overthrow the secular dictatorship of Bashar al Assad and replace it with a Sunni Islamic state to serve as a barrier to Shiite Iran.
It is a tragic irony that Syrian religious minorities feel compelled to cling to the brutal Assad dictatorship – not out of love for the regime, but for survival in the face of religious cleansing from the side of U.S.-supported Islamists. The failure of the Syrian opposition and its foreign patrons to gain the confidence of minorities has prolonged the life of the Assad regime and condemned all the Syrian people to still more death and destruction.
In November 2011, aid and advocacy group Christian Solidarity International issued a Genocide Alert for the Islamic Middle East. Since then others have sounded similar alarms. Speaking recently at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, former Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith – the bearer of impressive anti-genocide credentials – predicted: “The next genocide in the world will likely be against the Alawites in Syria.”
Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, elaborated in a New York Times article entitled “The World’s Next Genocide”:
“Growing numbers of foreign Sunni extremist fighters are battling not just to rid Syria of Mr. Assad, but to religiously cleanse it. As a result, many Syrian Christians now fear that their fate will mirror that of Iraqi Christians, who were largely forced out of Iraq by war and sectarian terrorism. The city of Homs was once home to 80,000 Christians; there are now reportedly fewer than 400.”
Less than two weeks ago, the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic issued an alarming report, confirming that the revolution in Syria “has become overtly sectarian.” The commission concludes:
“Entire communities are at risk of being forced out of the country or of being killed inside the country. With communities believing – not without cause – that they face an existential threat, the need for a negotiated settlement is more urgent than ever.”
While the current crisis of religious cleansing is most acute in Syria, we now see in Egypt – ruled by a new U.S.-financed Islamist autocracy – an upsurge in anti-Christian hate speech, pogroms against Christians, and the religious cleansing of the pyramid village of Dahshour. Conditions for anti-Christian acts of genocide currently exist in Egypt.
Employing the refrain “Never again!” President Obama pledged on April 23 at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to use the many instruments at his disposal to prevent genocide. He furthermore announced the establishment of a new instrument – the interagency Atrocities Prevention Board, headed by Samantha Power – and unveiled tough U.S. sanctions against the Syrian and Iranian regimes. But the existential threat to Syria’s Christians was left unaddressed.
U.S. Christian leadership cannot credibly allow religious cleansing in the Middle East to proceed unchallenged. As President Obama prepares his State of the Union Address, the time is ripe to urge him to reveal a Middle East genocide prevention plan.
At the Holocaust Museum, President Obama reiterated a fundamental principal of U.S. foreign policy: “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United State of America.” U.S. Christian leadership, if it has the will, can help prevent the eradication of Christian communities in the Middle East by encouraging President Obama to defend this vital tenet of sound foreign policy.
John Eibner is CEO of Christian Solidarity International-USA.
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