Editor’s note: The TNT first published a version of this editorial on Christmas Eve 2015. As updated statistics and news reports bear out, the situation is more desperate today, and the message even more relevant, than it was a year ago.
Americans often think of Christianity as a Western religion, but its origins are unmistakably Middle Eastern.
It’s not just that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, taught in ancient Judea and Galilee, and was crucified in Jerusalem. His religion took root first in lands that are now modern Israel, Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Iraq. Western Europe came late to the party.
This Christmas, let’s spare a thought, even a prayer, for the Christians being killed and dispossessed in the faith’s ancient homeland.
Many belong to traditions — such as Oriental Orthodoxy, Chaldean Catholicism and the Assyrian Church — largely unknown outside the region. That may be part of the reason there’s so little awareness of their plight. Yet the roots of some of these communities date to the earliest centuries of Christianity, long before the rise of Islam.
Mosul, Iraq, where soldiers from JBLM sacrificed much blood and sweat a decade ago, once boasted centuries of Judeo-Christian heritage stretching back to the prophet Jonah. Today, the practice of non-Muslim faith in this famously multicultural city is virtually obliterated or forced underground.
Especially in Iraq and Syria, Christians are being oppressed from many sides. But the Islamic State group is the pre-eminent persecutor.
This year marked a watershed in the U.S.’s acknowledgment of the crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry declared in March that the Islamic State was perpetrating genocide, seeking to wipe out the “mosaic” of religion and culture woven by Christian and other minorities in the Middle East. It was the first official American recognition of a genocide since Sudan in 2004.
“The United States will strongly support efforts to collect, document, preserve and analyze the evidence of atrocities,” Kerry said. “And we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.”
As well it should. From the days of Muhammad, mainstream Islam has had an official policy of tolerating both Christians and Jews, whom Muhammad recognized as “People of the Book.” This practice fell far short of equal treatment, and it was often violated by Muslim rulers, but most of the time it afforded some protection to people who adhered to biblical beliefs.
Despite Muhammad, today’s jihadists often ignore this doctrine. Islamic State in particular is systematically trying to eradicate Christian communities along with Yazidis and other believers (including Muslims who reject Islamic State’s pretensions to religious supremacy).
Muslims targeted by Islamic State have suffered the highest body count, and Yazidis have suffered an outright extermination campaign.
Meawhile, the militants’ war on the region’s Christians might be described as Bosnian-style ethnic cleansing.
Islamist extremists have carried out mass executions, torture, rape and other atrocities on a vast scale. They’ve made sex slaves of Christian and Yazidi females, girls as well as women. They’ve kidnapped children and the elderly and held them for ransom. They’ve demolished ancient churches and monasteries.
Radical Islamist violence against Christians is not contained to the Middle East. An international nonprofit called The Religion of Peace recorded the brutal slaughter of more than 850 people worldwide so far in 2016 — including several attacks on Christian homes, churches and villages in Nigeria, and a mass suicide bombing that killed dozens of Easter celebrants in Pakistan, half of them children.
Evidence also suggests that Monday’s terror attack in Berlin, at a Christmas market outside a German Protestant church, was targeted for what it symbolizes and who was gathered there.
Wherever Islamic State dominates, Christianity is being destroyed. The jihadists in Iraq have created a Nazi-like stigma for Christian households. Instead of yellow stars, homes are marked in red with the Arab character for “N, “ for “Nazarene.” It makes them easy to single out for eviction and violence.
Americans and Europeans who malign Syria’s refugees should bear this in mind. Many of these displaced “Muslims” are actually Christians.
This what genuine persecution looks like. And this is where the real “war on Christmas” is being waged.