The U.S. Congress Continues the Fight Against Christian Persecution

Offering a solution, Elliot Abrams testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights explaining it would be a good idea for the U.S. to consider economic sanctions on countries where Christians are persecuted. By taking such actions, Abrams believes that it will be possible to influence countries and the way they view the ideas of religious freedom and human rights.

By Georgiana Constantin | March 26, 2014

Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ)

Congressman Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, a longtime champion of human rights, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, held a hearing on the ‘Worldwide Persecution of Christians’ and opened his hearing by announcing, “We are here today to focus on the persecution of Christians worldwide, a topic which has been neglected by our media and world leaders – including those in the United States.” He noted, such persecution is “particularly true in the Middle East.”

As a continuation of George Carey’s recent remarks, where the former Archbishop of Canterbury observed, in the West “politicians think that because churches have until recently been in extraordinarily powerful opinion-forming positions, they cannot possibly be pictured as a persecuted minority. Yet far from being important and influential, in many parts of the world Christianity is weak and despised, and Christians are attacked and killed.” And, Prince Charles’ remark concerning the targeting of Christians by “fundamentalist Islamist militants” coincides with Congressman Smith’s opening remarks. The subcommittee hearing comes as a powerful reminder of the somber circumstances this particular religious group is dealing with on a global scale.

Considering past and recent efforts to confront the problem, it would seem the Occident is rapidly being awakened to the brutal truth that Christians are in fact the most persecuted religious group in the world, and therefore, the current situation cannot and should not remain as it is.

Among Congressman Smith’s witnesses was John L. Allen, Jr., author of The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution, who stated during the February 11, 2014 hearing that the view “Christianity incorporated is a multinational with some pretty deep pockets” needs to cease. The truth is that “more than 50% of them live in poverty,” including “dramatically at risk situations.”

Smith’s congressional hearing paints a grim picture of a reality which seems incompatible with 21st century expectations of religious tolerance. “There are an estimated 2.3 billion Christians in the world today, some two-thirds of whom live outside the West. That makes Christianity the largest religious tradition on the planet, representing one-third of the human population,” Allen noted. “Low-end estimate pegs the number of victims at one per day, while the high-end puts it at one per hour” and “the threats are not confined to any one region or any one protagonist, but are global in scope and complex in origin,” he added.

Violence and hatred against Christians seem to have no borders and now represent an increasing problem. “India, in spite of its long tradition for religious tolerance, finds itself in the throes of religious fundamentalism and violence against religious minorities for the past few decades,” Ms. Tehmina Arora observed during the Washington hearing. “Over the past five years, attacks have been reported across the country, though primarily concentrated in the states where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power and where groups associated with his party have been active,” she went on to say.

As a confirmation of the dismal situation of strife and intolerance which Christians are faced with, “the Pew Forum found that Christians in more than 100 countries were subjected to some form of persecution in 2012.” So, what happened to 21st century tolerance?  Does it still exist? And if so, does it apply to Christians?

Even though there have been cases of religious and ethnic minorities being persecuted throughout history, in modern times, most of them have caused outrage and led to people calling for an end to these atrocities. In the case of Christians, has public outrage been so obvious?

The Vatican’s apostolic nuncio to the United Nations joined in sounding the alarm by stating, “flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet.”  Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, who has witnessed this violence firsthand, served as apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan and lived in Baghdad from 2006 to 2010, before becoming permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN. It would seem that the persecution of Christians in Iraq has intensified following the country’s democratic transition. There, as was the case in other regions of the world, religious minorities had enjoyed some amount of protection under the strict law applied by previous rulers.

The Archbishop describes ‘Religious Freedom’ as “The first freedom on which democratic societies are built.” It is rapidly becoming apparent that the Western world is starting to take heed of the warning signs.

As Prince Charles pointed out in his December 2013 statement at Clarence House in London, Syria, Egypt, and the Middle East in general are at the heart of 21st century anti-Christian sentiment and violence. “I have for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East. It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that they are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants,” he remarked. Indeed, the most ‘extreme persecution’ of Christians is concentrated in the Middle East, according to the 2013 World Watch List.

In the U.S. on June 25 of last year, in a joint Subcommittee hearing entitled, ‘Religious Minorities in Syria: Caught in the Middle,’ Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the  Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor said, “Syria looks disturbingly different today than it did at the start of the revolution. What started 2 years ago as a peaceful demand for human rights in Daraa has turned into a devastating nationwide conflict with a growing human toll.[…] The extremist  groups do not support the aspirations nor do they reflect the mindset of the vast majority of the Syrian people or even the vast majority of the active Syrian opposition.”

Offering a solution, Elliot Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights explaining it would be a good idea for the U.S. to consider economic sanctions on countries where Christians are persecuted. He noted, “You look at the list of countries and see so many that are underdeveloped, or middle income or poor.” He then went on to emphasize, “In those cases economic sanctions … could have an effect. I think what we need to convey is … we care, and this will affect our relations.” By taking such actions, Abrams believes that it will be possible to influence countries and the way they view the ideas of religious freedom and human rights. If the United States and other powerful Western countries defend the persecuted, then, it is quite possible that the rest of the world will follow.

The current situation is one which unfortunately seems to only be worsening, as the Official Vatican Network observes, “the persecution of Christians is expected to rise in 2014.” Apparently, “the continuing rise of Islamist persecution” consisting mainly of militant groups trying to seize political power in their countries (i.e. Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria) and the communist (North Korea) and post-communist countries represent two very problematic areas for Christian safety.

Even so, in this tenebrous and disconsolate situation, hope still lingers. This hope takes the form of awareness. If the Occident were to deal with the problem as such and take the lead in defending Christians’ human rights to worship freely as vehemently as it has defended other victims of intolerance, then the lives of so many would be spared and the hope of salvation would soon become the reality of a new life.

Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied European, International and Romanian law. Her thesis on the UN and global governance was completed at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest. She is currently a Masters candidate for International and European Law at the Nicolae Titulescu University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.