On September 9, 2014, a conference organized by the newly formed group “In Defense of Christians” (IDC), will be addressing the issue of “persecution of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS.” The event is very well funded as all guests from overseas have been offered tickets and lodging, and a sophisticated outreach has been mobilizing Mideast Christian churches in the United States over the past few months to participate in great numbers.
More than 400,000 Christians are refugees in Kurdistan with no immediate hope for a return home. Scores of Christians have been killed, raped, and kidnapped by the Jihadists of ISIS. Christians of Iraq and Syria—and before there, in Egypt—have been under persecution and submitted to violence for the past few years. In short, the cause is a good one, However, while the narrative of IDC is directed at ISIS violence, the conference, is profiting the Iranian and Syrian regimes and Hezbollah. Here are the facts
The conference is ignoring the oppression by the Iranian regime against its own Christian community, particularly the Persian Christians. Many Americans are aware of the horrific jailing in Iran of Pastor Saeed Abidini whose only crime was his conversion to Christianity. With countless other pastors and activists assassinated, tortured, and jailed for years, an “In Defense of Christians” conference in Washington should at a minimum invite Iranian Christian dissidents and victims to testify about the Ayatollahs regime’s brutality against the community. Obviously, there are Christians who work with the Khomeinist regime inasmuch as there were French collaborating with the Nazis in WWII or “official churches” under the Soviet Bloc. Free Iranian Christians have not been seen at the IDC meetings.
The Assad regime’s massive brutality against Lebanon’s Christian community during the war of 1975-1990 has nowhere been cited at the conference. Neither is the torture, jailing and assassinations of hundreds of Christian citizens, politicians and journalists under Syrian occupation between 1990 and 2005 included. Two Christian presidents, many ministers, members of parliament, and students were killed by the Assad regime, but the conference has ignored this tragedy and no speaker is slated to address the issue. In addition, the Christians who are opposing Bashar Assad were not invited to speak while those who claim he protects them are omnipresent.
Hezbollah, a violent pro-Iranian organization on the U.S. terror list that has eliminated, kidnapped and threatened Lebanese Christians (as well as members from other communities) will not be condemned. Victims of its violence and terror are not scheduled to speak.
Last week, Iraqi Christians accompanied by Middle East Christian NGOs lodged a demand at the United Nations to form their own internationally protected zone in the north and form their own local defense force under UN supervision. The forces behind the IDC conference want these same Christians to become a unit within the Iranian influenced Iraqi Army which will be a recipe for disaster.
The most significant missing piece of all is the Copts of egypt the largest Christian community in the Middle East . Coptic Solidarity was contacted but was asked to toe the line of the conference, which CS has refused to do. Instead IDC invited a woman involved in orphanage activities to speak.
The World Maronite Union, which has been active around the world to free Lebanon from Syria’s occupation and disarm Hezbollah, is not on the invitation list either. No Middle East Christians opposed to Iran, Assad and Hezbollah will be speaking.
An emotional feature of the IDC event is the appearance of five Levantine Patriarchs . But the seats of these Patriarchates are in Iranian-dominated capitals, in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. The spiritual leaders can lament ISIS barbaric acts but not Tehran-Damascus regimes.
The keynote speaker, Jim Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, has been the arch-foe of Christian minorities in Washington for years. A long-time critic of Lebanese Christians, he has for decades rejected the rights of minorities to set themselves apart from Arab nationalism. Even in this conference he ignores the ethnic identity of Aramaic and Copts and insists on calling all the minorities—“Arab Christians.” Zogby has been an ally of the anti-Israel Arab lobby and of the Islamist Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and continues to defend the totalitarian regime of Assad. How can a Middle East Christian conference trust its ideological message to the head of the anti-minorities lobby in the United States?
Another troubling, information, according to a previous similar conference held in Beirut, is that IDC’s gathering will be most likely taken next year to Jerusalem for a copycat event. No one, however, should expect the Iranian backed network to befriend Israel. Just the opposite: expect Israel bashing and Hamas praising.
But what is the impetus behind such an event? Based on analysis and on the above facts, Iran and Syria’s regimes are taking advantage of the world’s attention on ISIS’s horrors to seize political control of the Levantine Christian communities, and use them in the region as a tool of propaganda. Iran and Syria want to buy their legitimization as partners in the war against ISIS by claiming that they are protecting the Christians, IDC is unwittingly playing the role of a Trojan horse for Tehran and Damascus, allowing them to manipulate the American Christian community in order to gain its support for a partnership with Assad and normalization with the Mullahs.
John Hajjar and Magdi Khalil are leading members of the the Middle East Christian Committee MECHRIC a coalition of Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean, Maronite, Coptic, Melkite and other Middle East Christian NGOs www.Mechric.org