June 6th will mark the one year anniversary of the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passing The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, which would provide U.S. funding directly to Christians in Syria and Iraq impacted by the genocide committed by the Islamic State (ISIS). It would also ensure that evidence is collected for prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity.
The bill, however, has languished in the U.S. Senate for almost nine months, and there are no signs that it will be voted on anytime in the near future.
The refusal of the United States Congress to act is just the latest example of leaders and citizens from around the world silently standing by as nothing is done to stop the elimination of Christians from the Middle Eastern lands they have called home since the time of the New Testament. Even the Trump administration, which had promised to make the plight of Middle East Christians a priority, has largely been missing in action since Vice President Mike Pence's much-anticipated visit to the Middle East in January delivered few results or signs of hope. With the United States and the West now doing virtually nothing to prevent the extinction of Middle East Christians, the situation may appear to be grim. There are, however, small flickers of hope that we must use to reignite a global effort aimed at protecting this vulnerable population.
After a wave of bombings and horrific attacks carried out in 2016 and 2017 by ISIS against Egypt's Christian Copts, the largest Christian group in the Middle East, violence has decreased in recent months. The government has stepped up prosecution of terrorists while implementing new security measures, including setting up checkpoints and metal detectors near places of worship.
In Saudi Arabia, which has long banned the practice of any faiths outside of Islam, the reformist Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has opened an interfaith dialogue, hosting historic visits by Christian leaders, including Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, and French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the most senior Vatican official to ever visit the Kingdom.
In Iraq, where the Christian population was once as high as 1.5 million but has been reduced by ISIS to fewer than 200,000, some refugees are beginning to return to their devastated cities and towns. The numbers, however, are sobering. Almost 30,000 Christians lived in Mosul, Iraq before ISIS took over the city in 2014; fewer than one hundred have gone back as of April 2018.
If we choose not to foster these signs of hope and progress, Middle Eastern Christians will join the ranks of Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Armenia, the Holocaust, and other preventable tragedies that unfolded as the world was watching. The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana's oft-cited warning that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it is especially relevant in light of a recent survey which found that over a fifth of young Americans have not heard of or are unsure if they have heard of the Holocaust.
We would all do well to heed the work and words of Payam Akhavan, whose family fled Iran in the 1970s because of the persecution of his Bahá'í faith. His 2017 memoir, "In Search of a Better World", chronicled his rise to becoming a renowned human rights lawyer and UN prosecutor who helped set up the international tribune that brought criminals to justice after the Rwandan genocide. He told the CBC last fall that Rwanda "was a Holocaust in the making, but not one concealed behind the walls of concentration camps. It was unfolding in plain sight, and the world watched on television, and did nothing."
On July 7th, Pope Francis will gather heads of churches and Christian communities from the Middle East to join him in Bari, Italy for a day of reflection and prayer with the goal of raising awareness of their plight. Let us resolve to make July 7th also a day of gratitude, where those religious leaders can also deliver prayers of thanks in acknowledgement of the world finally taking action to ensure that future generations of Christians survive and thrive in the Middle East.
Cécilia Attias, the former first lady of France, is founder of the Cécilia Attias Foundation for Women and senior vice president for public affairs of Richard Attias & Associates.