On the eve of the Christmas holidays, Luca Volontè, Chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, implored Western nations to speak out and take action against the violent persecution of Christians:
“While we in the West prepare to enjoy Christmas festivities, our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the Levant are being systematically attacked and expelled from their homelands, the birthplace of Christ. What was once hailed the Arab Spring is now the Christian Winter, with a systematic campaign of religious cleansing being undertaken by Islamist militants, from Baghdad to Cairo. These fundamentalists bring about the extermination of Christian villages and yet remain unchecked and unhindered by their own governments and the international community alike.”
For two thousand years Christians have lived in the Middle East, making huge contributions to the economic, intellectual and cultural advancements of the region. In spite of this, the anarchy brought about by the Arab Spring has given rise to extremist Salafist groups who have waged a destructive campaign against Christian communities with the intent of driving them from the region altogether. The UN committee for Refugees now estimates 850,000 Iraqi Christians have either died or fled the country. In addition, 450,000 Christians have left Syria, where rebel forces have burnt Christian villages to the ground. In Egypt alone, over 250 Churches have been vandalised.
Last week saw interventions from both His Holiness Pope Francis and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The Pope declared: “We won’t resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians…the Bishop of Rome will not rest as long as there are men and women, of any religion, affected in their dignity, deprived of life’s basic necessities, robbed of a future, forced to the status of refugees and asylum-seekers.” Following his visit to Christian refugees, the Prince of Wales said: “we cannot ignore the fact that they are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants…we have now reached a crisis where the bridges [between communities] are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so – and this is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution.”
While supporting the Pope’s call for special prayers, Luca Volontè also called for tangible actions from Western governments.“When the Kurdish population of Iraq was suffering from systematic attack from Saddam Hussein in 1991, Western nations did not stand idly by, complicit in the crimes committed,” he said. “Operation Provide Comfort was launched, protected safe zones were established, humanitarian aid airlifted in and a population saved from genocide. If we continue to allow the current atrocities in the Middle East, we will stand complicit in the religious cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people – and the eradication of two millennia of Christian history.”