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American Aid Needed to End Foreign Christian Persecution

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October 9, 2014, October 9, 2014 | comments

American Aid Needed to End Foreign Christian Persecution

As ISIL continues its violent march through Iraq and Syria, Christians in the region face increasingly dire circumstances. In July, the terrorist organization ordered that all non-Muslims must choose to either convert to Islam or else pay an impossibly high poll tax. The penalty for Christians refusing to renounce their faith or pay the “jizya” tax is violence, with punishments including harassment, rape, and often execution.

For these Christians, persecution has long been a part of their history. The religious minority traces its roots back so far that in the town of Al-Qosh, thirty miles south of the city of Mosul in Iraq, Jewish sites predating the formation of Christianity can still be seen. For the twenty-five centuries since, Christianity has maintained a loyal following of believers determined to withstand persecution from religious majorities in the region. The rise of ISIL, however, threatens to end this rich history.

In Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, officials in the Syrian Catholic Church suggest that not a single Christian remains within city walls. ISIL has issued the order to “convert, pay, or die,” and around 100,000 Christians in Mosul alone have been forced to leave their homes and deep religious roots behind. More than two million Iraqi refugees now live in Irbil, the Kurdish capital of the country, and attend Catholic masses in churches so crowded they very nearly cannot accommodate the congregations. At St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Irbil, Father Rian offers four different services each Sunday in order to accommodate the flood of refugees seeking a safe haven and peaceful worship.

Efforts to provide space and care for refugees are becoming increasingly strained as ISIL continues to expand its hold on the region and Christians continue to flee. Even outside of the violent physical grasp of ISIL, basic human needs for Christian refugees cannot be met. The lucky few with family ties in Irbil cram up to sixty people in a single small home, while the less fortunate survive in tents and sleeping bags often found on church grounds.

In order to protect Christians around the globe, the U.S. must get involved both militarily and diplomatically and combat the crisis faced by Christian refugees in the Middle East. Pope Francis met this weekend with Vatican ambassadors from the region in order to discuss how best to protect the more than 7.5 million Christian minorities facing persecution from ISIL. The conclusion from the meeting? Military force is both justified and necessary in order to prevent further violent acts by ISIL against non-Muslims in the region.

With the Catholic Church leading the charge to defend these basic human rights with force, the U.S. must facilitate Christians’ peaceful return to their homes. The United States has a duty to do so in order to reduce the strain on overly-crowded areas of refuge like Irbil and protect the basic human rights of refugees, which the Vatican recognizes as one of its primary focuses. Pope Francis insists that “there are no religious, political or economic factors that can justify what is happening to hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children” in the Middle East, and we cannot continue to allow this violence to spin out of control. Basic human rights must be met, and we as a nation have a duty to ensure the safety of these Christians.

Recent airstrikes in the region temporarily achieved this goal, but as the fight against ISIL continues, violence and terror have now returned. In recent weeks, ISIL has expanded its control to include the Christian cities of Bartella, Tall Kayf, and Hamadaniya, worsening the problem of crowded cities full of refugees and indicating that U.S.-led airstrikes only temporarily halted the ISIL onslaught. This advance follows the earlier overtaking of Qaraqosh, a city initially seen as a safe haven from ISIL-dominated Mosul, and shows that ISIL has overcome the U.S. threat by air—we must likewise adapt our strategy.

With an eye to the now-cramped refugee cities of Irbil and neighboring Dohuk, criticism of U.S. foreign policy and the Obama administration has increased because of their failure to recognize the worsening threat posed by the terrorist group and the newfound need for ground troops. Catholic priests in the region insist that U.S. airstrikes no longer keep the terrorist force at bay, and the conference organized by Pope Francis confirms this.

Military force can only succeed with the help of diplomatic support, and we cannot disregard the simultaneous need for political action. America must garner support from its allies to protect the rights of Christians throughout the world, and the need for diplomacy between North America, Europe, and other countries of refuge cannot go unnoticed.

The fight against ISIL is a global one, as anti-terrorist raids in Australia and the beheading of a French citizen in Algeria demonstrate. Only military force by a coalition of nations united in the defense of human rights will stop the expanding threat of this violent Islamic group. To do less in the fight against terror would do a disservice to Christians around the world as innocent men, women, and children continue to suffer at the hands of these Islamic extremists.


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