Throughout the Middle East, Christian minorities face severe repression and violence. The Middle East is where Christianity was born and where it has flourished for much of history. However, today is a very different time. For example, in 2000 there were nearly 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. Today there are only 300,000. The Christians who remain in Iraq are now faced with a daily life of fear because of the brazen and brutal attacks by the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Islamic extremists in countries like Egypt, Syria and Iraq are singling out and targeting Christian minorities. These minority Christian communities rarely have the protection of the government or protection from the opposition. In Egypt, there have been numerous attacks on the Coptic Christians there, and young women and girls are being abducted and forced to convert to Islam. In Syria, Christian churches and clerics have been attacked by both Islamic radicals fighting the government and by militias loyal to the Assad regime. In Iraq, ISIS has pledged to establish a “Christian free nation,” and they have demonstrated their willingness to carry out genocide with a complete disregard for innocent life.
This week, I spoke to a new and important organization dedicated to the protection and empowerment of persecuted Christian minorities throughout the Middle East. The program "In Defense of Christians" brought together included nearly 1,000 Middle East Christian Diaspora advocates and religious leaders who are committed to the preservation of Christian communities in the Middle East. This single group is now one voice for the underrepresented voices in the region.
These religious leaders were in Washington to raise the level of urgency for the United States to respond to the persecution and brutality religious minorities face. It’s important that the fundamental principles of human rights that our nation was built on are reflected in how we conduct our foreign policy. At times, the United States government has sent mixed signals on their willingness to protect Christian minority populations in war zones and in countries going through political transition. As someone who has worked closely with the State Department, I have made it clear that these populations must be protected, especially during times of rapid change and conflict.
Now, more than ever, the U.S. must exhibit strong global leadership when it comes to the advancement of religious freedoms, liberties and protections. We must stand tall against the extremist elements who have chosen violence as a tactic to suppress religious freedom. By standing united we can ensure people around the world are free to express their faith openly, even in the most dangerous places in the world.