Displaced people who fled Islamic State violence, receive aid on the outskirts of Shirqat, south of Mosul, Iraq. Most Western humanitarian aid is failing to reach the thousands of Christians who have fled their homes as Islamic State fighters have swept through Iraq and Syria, three Middle Eastern bishops said at the 134th Knights of Columbus convention in Toronto. CNS photo/courtesy of Reuters

Break the silence

  • August 18, 2016

Is the West’s tepid response to the religious cleansing of Syrian and Iraqi Christians a sign of naivety, greed or maybe cowardice? Or is there a Machiavellian strategy to ease religious tension in the region by silently watching a 2,000-year-old Christian presence simply fade away?

Those blunt questions were presented recently in Toronto by the head of the Syriac Catholic Church. 

“It is up to you, my dear friends, to make a judgment,” said Ignatius Youssef III Younan in an emotional address at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus.

Sounding at times angry, frustrated or saddened, the Patriarch gave a stinging rebuke to the West over a “stunning” indifference to the “genocide” of Christians. Who can blame him?

Following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, 80 per cent of Iraq’s Christian population have died, fled, become refugees or, more recently, been killed by Islamic terrorists. Since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, more than half that country’s Christians have been killed or exiled. Those two nations had about three million Christians at the turn of the 21st century. Today, more than two million of them are either dead, internally displaced, living destitute in refugee camps or trying to rebuild lives abroad.

The Patriarch called Syria the most dangerous spot on the planet. He decried the slaughter of Christian civilians and clergy, the desecration or destruction of more than 140 ancient churches and monasteries, the unknown fate of two archbishops kidnapped three years ago and the ongoing use of civilians as human shields. As the world watches in near silence, the tentacles of radical Islam spread.

What the West has provided in financial aid, refugee resettlement and military support may have slowed the cataclysm and lessened some suffering, but the decimation of Christians and other minorities remains fundamental to Islamic radicalism. It is a genocide. Untold numbers of ordinary people, largely Christian, continue to be targeted. The Patriarch argued convincingly that the devastation will continue for as long as the West is willing to “betray its own principles and abandon Christians and other minorities.”

He aimed particularly harsh words at the West’s see-no-evil relationship with Saudi Arabia and some other Islamic nations. Their “reckless” financing and arming of international Islamic groups has, predictably, produced terrorists, the Patriarch said. He lamented Western complacency and greed, and the abandonment of Christian values in order to keep Mideast oil flowing, despite the obvious human cost. 

This “economic opportunism,” he said, sees the West “pandering” to Mideast nations which have no interest in retaining Christianity’s 2,000-year presence in the region. Thus their silence —  a shameful, deadly silence — as Christian and other communities face annihilation.

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