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What the West Needs to Know About the Persecution of Christians in the Middle East

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GAIL ORENSTEIN / NURPHOTO

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 06/07/15

An interview with author George J. Marlin of Aid to the Church in Need

Christians throughout the Middle East are being persecuted in greater numbers and to a greater degree than the media reports. As Chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, George J. Marlin knows this very well and has authored a new book detailing the ongoing campaign to exterminate Christians in that part of the world. It’s called Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy, published by St. Augustine’s Press, and Marlin spoke to Zoe Romanowsky at Aleteia about why he wrote the book, and some surprising discoveries he made while conducting his research…

Zoe Romanowsky: Why did you write this book? 

George J. Marlin: As you know, Aid to the Church in Need is dedicated to helping those being persecuted around the world. A lot of our energies—for obvious reasons—have been focused on the Middle East and it struck me that we have been accumulating data over the years from each of the Middle Eastern countries where there has been systemic persecution: Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudia Arabia, and Sudan… places where there has been systemic persecution. I thought it was time to bring it all together.

This didn’t just start with ISIS. I try to show that in the 20th century alone many thousands of people have been killed and  driven out of their homes. I point out that persecution means more than just ISIS chopping your head off; there’s systemic persecution against employment, against your religion, your job, your family, your business. So when you’re looking at these countries I mentioned, it’s a frightening story and I’m hoping it wakes up some people in the West, particularly in Washington, D.C. 

ZR: While researching for the book, did you come across anything that surprised you?

GM: Yes. I think what surprised me was that, be it in Iraq, Egypt or Syria, there was constant persecution on a daily basis of Christians—whether Catholic, Coptic Christian, etc., On a high holy day, your bishop might be abducted, your priest killed, your church blown up, your home burned down, mobs chasing you in and out of churches. This is happening all across the Middle East.

But what was even more striking to me was that in Iraq—particularly during the American occupation, from 2003-2010—over 2,000 Christians were murdered for their faith. Again, this is while we were occupying. Christians were assumed to be sympathetic with the West and if you worked for anyone associated with the U.S. government or the West, you were a target and might be killed or hurt. If U.S. soldiers went to your restaurant or your store and did business there, the owners might be punished. So even during the American occupation, there was tremendous persecution against Christians. The Iraq constitution was even skewed against Christians. And it’s gotten even worse since then. But that was surprising to me. 

ZR: You recently said in an interview with NewsMax that the Obama administration has a "tin ear" about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Why do you think they are unable or unwilling to acknowledge the religious aspect of this crisis? 

GM: When it comes to Christians being killed or persecuted, this Administration just can’t say it. In my estimation, President Obama lives in an ideological bubble. The late Cardinal George once told me—he was friendly with the Obamas and dealt with Obama as a state senator, a U.S. senator, and then as president—that State Senator Obama would sit down with you, talk for 25 minutes, and then say, "I guess we agree." And if you said, "I don’t think so…", he’d get up in a huff and leave. That seems to be his mentality; if you disagree with him or break up his ideological vision of the world, he dismisses you.

So in the case of Christian persecution, the Administration dismisses it. When the Egyptian Copts were killed, the White House said they were sorry Egyptian citizens were killed. Well, that’s ridiculous, of course they were Egyptian citizens, but they were killed because they were Christians. The pope said they were specifically killed because they were Christians. I’d like to say. "Mr. President, the pope said the Egyptian Copts were specifically killed because of their faith, do you agree or disagree, yes or no?" But nobody, is asking that. Which is pathetically sad. 

ZR: What is the most important thing you want people in the West to know about Christianity in the Middle East?

GM: I spent 17 years in the Catholic educational system, and have a degree in Thomistic philosphy, and I’m 62 years-old. Our mentality was that the Church was the West; it was Rome. But we forget that the Church began in the Middle East, in Antioch, and Christians and Jews were there 600 years before the Muslims arrived. People are always surprised to learn that there are so many Christians in the Middle East, but we’ve been there for 2,000 years.

I’m hoping we can awaken the West and remind them that their roots are in the Middle East; that western civilization is built on Judeo-Christian traditions. The basis of that tradition is that every person is made in the image of God and has a worth and what we’re seeing in the Middle East is that Christians are being described as non-persons and wiped off the face of the earth. We have to wake up the West to take take responsibility and do something about it. 

Tags:
Christians in the Middle EastIslamReligious Freedom
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