Good morning and welcome to Coptic Solidarity’s Policy Day Education Day, which is part of our 5th Annual Conference. We are grateful to Congressman Trent Franks who enabled us to host our meeting here in the Capitol. We thank all of you who have traveled from near and far to be with us. We also thank media personnel who are reporting on the messages that will be shared today.
This year’s conference theme, After Arab Spring, Middle East Christians Between Local Violence and International Indifference, is unfortunately a harsh reality impacting Christians and other religious minorities in epic numbers. Since this issue receives little international media coverage, we are determined to create awareness of the situation. This year, Coptic Solidarity has partnered with MECHRIC, The Middle East Christians Committee, which is a federation of independent NGOs, including Assyrian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite, Syriac, and other groups facing the threat of extinction in their homelands.
These ancient communities have existed throughout the region for thousands of years, and have over centuries gone through existential choices between conversion to Islam, life in submission as dthimmis, or death. Despite a brief respite from these draconian choices in post-Ottoman times, with the attempts to build modern nation-states, we see a resurgence of the application of the Code of Omar throughout the region. And, whereas the rest of the world has known four ‘democracy waves,’ this “damned region” is going through one of the ugliest convulsions human history knew. Driven by a diabolic “hate ideology,” Jihadist death cult are today’s real “WMDs” rushing to destruct civilization and humanity.
Throughout the region, there has been an exponential increase in attacks against Christians, their homes, businesses, and houses of worship, simply for being Christians. Many have been forced to flee their homelands and seek refuge elsewhere. The fortunate ones are able to emigrate to the West and other stable nations. But many more live subjugated, or become refugees in other parts of their home countries or in near-by countries. Children being raised in such hostile environments suffer from severe trauma, and lack of education making the prospects for their futures incredibly bleak. Christian women are also frequent targets for harassment, rape, kidnapping, forced marriages and forced conversions. In Egypt, Christians receive jail sentences for “contempt of Islam” due to a mere “Like” click on a Facebook page, or an unsubstantiated accusation by a fanatic.
Overall, Christians in this region live as second class citizens, subjected to systematic discrimination and persecution in nearly every facet of life from their legal status, to education, to employment, to religious freedom, including building and maintaining houses of worship, to the most extreme situations of having virtually no physical security. They simply suffer a relentless “war of attrition.”
Now some may ask why would these indigenous groups want to live in countries where they clearly are not wanted and have little to no hope of enjoying life, liberty, and a future. Wouldn’t it be easier for them to just pack up and leave?
Aside from the practical realities that many simply cannot afford to move, the answer lies in their faith: Christians are not surprised by persecution. At the same time, all civilized humans the world over are called to not forget those who suffer for their faith. That is what we are doing here today, creating awareness and advocating on their behalf.
Furthermore, Christians living in the Middle East indeed serve as the “salt and light” to the world around them, as living glue that holds communities together. They do so in a plethora of ways such as standing for religious freedom for people of all faiths because our Creator gave us free will to choose or reject Him. They use their education to serve their communities and others without discrimination. Ultimately, they serve often as peacemakers and maintain a plurality of political and religious thought that otherwise would not exist.
Imagine for a moment if the religious genocide in the Middle East is completed as many Islamists and jihadists desire…, what would become of these nations? From PEW research on this topic, we already know the answer. They would become less prosperous, less stable, and women would be further relegated to the bottom of society. The increasing hegemony of fundamentalist thought in the Middle East would further constrain Muslims wanting to live by today’s values and liberties. One may add that Egypt, Syria, Lebanon or Iraq without their Christians are more likely than not to become replicas of Somalia, Afghanistan or Libya.
At this point, one cannot ignore the impact of the misguided politics of the powers-to-be of this world that undoubtedly help the ongoing tragedy. It would appear that policymakers thought that the way to protect the West from terrorism, would be to let Jihadis loose in the Middle East where they could consume their “energy,” no matter the human price the weaker communities pay. And, so goes the thinking, Sunni-Shia sectarian conflicts would keep everybody even more occupied.. But what they forget is that historically the military-theocratic war machine (Islamism, in today’s terms) has always thrived on Jihad (against others) or Fitna (internal in-fights). When combined, the war machine further goes into a self-feeding mode that intensifies the ferocity of the violence and expands its range. In sum, nobody, the world over, will be safe as the region turns into a huge factory of evermore violence.
Finally, I hope the result of this conference will be to create greater awareness of the dire plight of religious minorities in the Middle East and will result in more coordinated and concerted action between the communities, national governments, and international entities to preserve these historic communities before it is too late. We do not only want these communities to persevere, but strive toward a future in which they can thrive as equal citizens contributing to the well-being of their homelands. I hope you will join us in working towards this end.
Adel Guindy – June 26, 2014