Burning of mostly Christian-owned shops in Zakho, Northern Iraq. (Photo courtesy Compass Direct News)
Middle East (MNN) ― Christian Solidarity International (CSI) issued a Genocide Warning last week for endangered religious minorities in the Islamic Middle East.
Todd Nettleton is a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs USA. He agrees that persecution is high for one religious minority: Christians. Nettleton explains, "When you look at elections in Egypt where sixty some-odd percent of the vote went to the Islamic parties, including, in one case, the Islamic party that has been a party of attacking churches and attacking Christians, there is fear among the church about what this means."
However, he wonders at the use of "genocide" to describe what is happening. "I think it is a very strong word. I have not heard that word used by our staff who works in the Middle East region. I haven't heard it used by the Christians who are there. To say there is a threat against them I think is very real, but to say it's 'genocide' goes a bit beyond what we've identified at this point."
That's not to say believers are blind to the hostilities aimed at them. Open Doors USA uses the term "religicide" to describe what's happening in Iraq. Violence against believers has already created a remnant church there. Last weekend, new reports surfaced about Islamic rioters attacking Christian shops in northern Iraq. Compass Direct News also revealed an Al Qaeda plot to bomb churches in Turkey and multiple attacks against Christians in Pakistan and Syria.
The greatest concern is what the future might hold with an Islamist government in charge. Nettleton says Christians worry that "'if we have no way of earning representation at the ballot box because we're such a small minority in the country, what does this mean for us? What will our government do to protect us?' That fear is very real."
CSI is asking President Obama to call on the United Nations Secretary-General to issue a genocide warning, to stop funding institutions in the Middle East that promote religious discrimination, and to commit at least 15% of the funding the U.S. has set aside for promoting democracy in the region towards "combating Islamic supremacism."
However, considering the length of time it took for the Obama administration to fill the International Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Nettleton says, "It will be interesting to see if there is a response from the State Department to see what they do to protect religious freedom in the Middle East, and particularly, the countries that are in the transition process."
Given the pattern in Iraq, could the Middle East be experiencing another exodus? For persecuted Christians, that's not out of the realm of possibility. Nettleton says, "Because these issues are across the region, you can't necessarily go next door to find better treatment and to find protection and to find freedom. For many Christians, they feel like they have to get completely out of the Middle East region in order to have their religious freedom protected and honored."
Nettleton hastens to add that there remains a remnant church in the most difficult areas. Those Christians continue to live out the Gospel and share their hope with others when given the opportunity, sometimes from inside a prison cell. Keep praying.