Following the liberation of Raqqa, the Economist headlined an article “To the victors, the toils”. While we can all rejoice that the blood-soaked reign of ISIS terror has ended, the challenges facing Christians returning to their homes are certainly daunting.
For one thing, there are far fewer of them. The Christian population of 1.4 million that lived in Iraq in 2003 has dwindled to fewer than 250,000. This represents a catastrophic decline for a Church that traces its faith back to the Apostle Thomas and which continues to pray in Aramaic, the language of Our Lord.
That the cradle of Christianity risks being eradicated should be of compelling concern to Christians of all denominations. The implications go far beyond the Christian world. They are truly geopolitical in nature. Iraq was one of the region’s only four remaining countries with robust Christian communities. They were advocates of modern education, medicine and citizens’ rights, having historically served as a moderating influence and bridge to the West. Their extinction – following that of other minorities, such as Yazidis and Jews, over the past 70 years – would signal the end of pluralism in the Arab world.
Their survival comes down to two issues: funds and basic security. Since 2014, the US has provided more than $1.4 billion in humanitarian aid for Iraq. But very little of it has reached the beleaguered Christian and Yazidi communities. Furthermore, there is no protection for religious minorities in the overwhelmingly Muslim camps, which the minorities are terrified of entering. UN programmes also exclude the local churches, which try to minister to these populations with piecemeal donations from private sources.
Hence the enormous significance of US Vice President Mike Pence’s recent declaration that President Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding “ineffective” UN relief efforts. From now on US Aid for International Development (USAID) will provide humanitarian assistance directly to “help those who are persecuted for their faith”.
Private organisations have already stepped up through the heroic Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Project, funded by the charity Aid to the Church in Need and the Knights of Columbus. Together with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, they are aiming to generate $250 million to rebuild the roughly 13,000 private homes that were burned down or otherwise destroyed. Nevertheless, the commitment of the present US administration will be transformational for this suffering community of Christians.
Today’s persecution is possibly the worst in Church history. And – with the notable exception of Hungary – it is being conveniently sidestepped by today’s Western leaders. The Anglosphere Society, an independent, non-profit organisation based in New York, is seeking to build a movement that will enable ordinary Christians to speak out effectively against this senseless and seemingly endless onslaught on believers, and thereby inspire political change.
Edmund Burke famously observed that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. More than a year ago, America recognised the ISIS assault as genocide. Earlier this year, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised to protect the targeted minorities from violent extremism – even after ISIS is defeated – and to preserve their cultural heritage. But you can’t just declare a crime to be genocide and think you’ve done the job. Words must be backed by actions.
People talk about the situation in Iraq and Syria being “complicated”. But it’s not. There are no moral ambiguities here. We are talking about good and evil. Nobody thinks that the recent defeat of ISIS in Raqqa and elsewhere marks the end of mass murder. As Winston Churchill said after the Battle of Britain: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But perhaps it is the end of the beginning.”
Through The Anglosphere Society’s work and other similar efforts, we want to help put the issue of the persecution of Christians at the top of the agenda. Silence only brings more suffering. It brings more death. And it brings more shame on the rest of the world.
Given that an estimated 900,000 Christians worldwide have been martyred for their faith in the last 10 years, we all need to summon up the courage to do something about the slaughter of Christians – and to do it now.
Amanda Bowman is the founder of The Anglosphere Society, a membership organisation whose mission is to promote Western values, including freedom of religion