Elizabeth Prodromou: No Room for Lukewarm as Mideast Christians Die

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou is a frequent contributor at OCN, where her knowledge and insights are greatly respected. The following is an excerpt of a recent article she wrote for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese blog, calling for action in the Middle East, where inaction has a high cost.

No Room for Lukewarm as Mideast Christians Die: Doing No Harm, Doing Nothing, and Doing Something

by Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou

Last week, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) held its annual Religion and Foreign Policy Summer Workshop. Headquartered at the corner of Park Avenue and 68th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the CFR, publisher of the venerable Foreign Affairs, is part of a small, rarified group of organizations whose weighty effects on international relations are widely recognized by global policy cognoscente. Eight years ago, the CFR launched an initiative to bring together foreign-policy practitioners and “religious and congregational leaders and thinkers” whose ideas, experiences, and interactions can give purchase into understanding the role of religion in world affairs and as a variable for U.S. foreign policy.

At this year’s event, I bumped into many friends and met a raft of new people—preachers, academics, diplomats, think-tankers, journalists—from every point on the political spectrum and from a kaleidoscope of religious traditions. In between the discussions about the efficaciousness and evolution of RTP (“Responsibility to Protect) in international relations—there remain serious deficits in systematic application of a consistent standard which can require collective action, whether economic, diplomatic, or sometimes, military, by the international community in order to protect populations from crimes that their states are unwilling or unable to stop—and the analysis of challenges posed by social media as a tool for religious radicalization, mobilization, and action—religious extremist groups are using Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook with unprecedented scope and sophistication, as echo chambers to amplify hate and provoke violence—I couldn’t help but wonder: Why has the international community demonstrated no sense of responsibility to protect the Christian communities of the Middle East, given the mounting evidence that very existence is becoming ever-more tenuous because of the crimes perpetrated by jihadi extremists who are uploading 72-hours-per-minute of real-time horrors from the killing zones of Syria and Iraq?

Yes, this is an issue about which I’ve posted repeatedly on this blog site, so let me drill down into some specific issues, questions, and suggestions. I’d like to have a conversation with Orthodox Christians and the Church (my shorthand for all Orthodox Churches, of every jurisdiction, in the United States), about how to respond to the calamitous conditions faced by Christians in the places where Christianity was born.

Preempting the critics, I should clarify that my focus on Christians and my chat with Orthodox Christians is not a function of sectarian navel-gazing, religious parochialism, or lack of concern with other pressing matters in our world (after all, climate change, natural resource deprivation, and new forms of slavery are but a few of the tribulations that deserve our attention, since they endanger humankind and the planet). Rather, I return to the issue of suffering Christians in the Middle East for two reasons.

First, there are the facts on the ground. Most recently, the declaration of a new Islamic Caliphate whose initial footprint is the swath of territory captured by the extremist-jihadi group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now renamed, simply, The Islamic State, is a gruesome climax to the decade-plus ordeal that has confronted Christians in those states with a dilemma: for some Christians, the perilous flight from their ancestral lands to the uncertainties and degradation of refugee status in Jordan and Lebanon; and, for those Christians unwilling or unable to flee, the daily privations of being kidnapped, facing slow-death starvation, or struggling to pay the jizya, the protection tax imposed on Christians as dhimmi. There was an ominous symbolism in the fact that the ISIS’s terror tactics had emptied Mosul of its ancient Christian population, so that there was not a single liturgical celebration in Mosul’s churches on June 29th, the Feastday of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the same day that ISIS chief Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the new caliphate. The Christian drama is a harbinger of things to come, for Christians, other non-Muslim minorities, and for Muslims uninterested in living under a militant caliphate (their penalty for failing to pledge fealty to the caliphate concept is displayed in the gruesome photos of public crucifixions of Muslims in Syria by ISIS forces).

Second, the Christian drama (Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Emil Shimoun Nona, has reported to international media that every last Christian has been cleansed from Iraq’s second-largest city since its capture by ISIS forces) is a potent reminder of the universal ambit of human suffering endured by individuals because of their belief and faith. The examples of religious freedom violations, shocking for their global range and frequency, have been catalogued in recent reports by the Pew Research Center, the Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, amongst other sources. Emblematic cases include the unrelenting persecution of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar government; the repression of Tibetan Buddhists by the Chinese state; the disturbing spike in anti-Semitic incidents in France and Belgium; and the brutal assaults on non-conforming Muslims and Christians alike by al-Shabaab and Boko Haram across east-central Africa. The international community’s shocking indifference to the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria makes a mockery of the RTP, and sends a message to state and non-state violators of human rights that they are free to act with impunity within and across national borders. Alternatively, a good-faith effort at collective action to protect the remaining Christians in Syria and Iraq–not a military action, but a combined humanitarian action (foods, medicines, shelter for refugees now living in unsustainable and precarious conditions in neighboring host-countries) and diplomatic initiative (decisive, innovative, and collaborative policies for pulling the plug on support to extremists of The Islamic State and al-Qaeda ilk)–will signal that the international community recognizes that peace is a chimera, absent the uncompromising protection of human rights.

Read the full article here.

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Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict…
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