If 2017 is going to be a less violent year for Christians around the world than the past few have been, international governments, leaders and citizens alike will have to turn words in support of the persecuted into action. While words are often a precursor to action, and an important step in building solidarity and raising awareness about a particular situation, they become hollow if not followed up by substitutive action.
Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to meet many beleaguered Christian communities around the world. I have visited with Christians persecuted by Islamic extremism in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon, and by repressive states in China, Cuba and Turkey. One consistent message I have heard can be summarized by a question I was asked by a Syriac Christian in Northeast Syria. "We hear that many nations in the West want to help us and secure our future in our ancestral homeland," he said. "But after many months and years of hearing this ... nothing in our situation has changed. Will this help ever come?"
A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Netherlands with a small group of human rights advocates, genocide experts and clergy, including the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, Archbishop Petrus Mouche, to encourage the country to find substantive ways to help persecuted Christians.
We were invited by Parliamentarian Pieter Omtzigt, who has been one of the few outspoken Dutch advocates on behalf of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East. Like a number of European nations, the Netherlands voted down a resolution declaring genocide against minorities in Iraq and Syria. We were present at the Dutch Parliament to say that opportunities to right this wrong and become an active participant in stopping current and future genocides still exist.
A few actions nations are, or should be, pursuing in 2017 include:
- Persuading countries such as Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and others who have previously voted against genocide declarations to recognize the situation of Christians in Iraq and Syria as genocide.
- Prosecuting members of the Islamic State (especially those returning to Europe and North America) for being a member of a terrorist organization, as well as for the genocidal crimes they have participated in.
- Prioritizing Christian and other victims of genocide in their respective refugee programs.
- Supporting the creation of a semi-autonomous safe haven for religious and ethnic minorities in the Nineveh Plain region of Iraq. In the U.S., this idea is being supported through Congressional Resolution 152.
These are just a few meaningful ways nations can get involved in supporting the persecuted in Iraq and Syria. Opportunities exist to do the same in other areas of the world.
Ignorance of the situation faced by Christians and other religious minorities is no longer an excuse for inaction. The time for debate is over. As Nuri Kino, journalist and founder of A Demand for Action, an international organization that advocates on behalf of Christians (Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs) and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, asked of the Dutch Parliamentarians we testified before last month, "Will you help us or will history only record your silence?"