Helping Mideast Christians

In my last post, I described some of the reasons why Mideast Christians face persecution today. Historical factors explain much. Christians face social discrimination, informed by centuries of treatment as dhimmis, which makes them easy targets for violence. This is so even though, as a formal matter, the dhimma no longer applies and Christians enjoy equal rights as citizens in most Mideast countries.

The West bears blame for the current crisis as well, however, including the United States. Historically, Western governments have often used Mideast Christians as pretexts for their own designs in the region, pressing for Christian rights but then abandoning Christians when the inevitable backlash occurs. Recent American policy did not display this sort of cynicism, but its thoughtlessness had much the same effect. By invading and then withdrawing from Iraq, and by encouraging a rebellion in Syria but then refusing to make it a success, the US has exposed Christians (and others) to tremendous suffering.

So, what can America now do to help these communities? Whatever we do, we must be prudent. Large-scale military intervention is out of the question. The American people would oppose further large-scale military action in the Mideast, and it would likely make matters worse for Christians, anyway, as it did in Iraq. For such intervention to work, America would have to commit to decades of a large military presence in the Mideast—an indefinite commitment. That’s not going to happen, so we should not begin. Indeed, the worst mistake of the Bush Administration was not anticipating that the American people would be unwilling to keep their sons and daughters in Iraq for the amount of time necessary to make the country a viable democracy.

Small-scale military assistance and training is another matter. According to reports, the US already quietly provides training and assistance to Christian militias in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. Helping these beleaguered communities defend themselves against ISIS is morally and strategically justified.

Humanitarian assistance is also necessary. Here, again, we must show prudence. Simply supporting UN operations in the region is not enough. Christians tend to avoid the UN refugee camps, where they face harassment by Islamist militants who hide among the refugees. Nor is it wise to rely on local officials to distribute aid packages, since the packages have a way of failing to reach Christians. Instead, we must find ways to get humanitarian assistance directly to Christians, who otherwise may never receive it.

Small-scale military assistance, and humanitarian aid, may allow Mideast Christians to remain in, or in some cases return to, their homes. That would be the best result—and it is the one many Mideast Christians, who have bravely remained in the region despite persecution, prefer. The survival of these communities is not only important for local Christians, though. Christian communities are a stabilizing force in the contemporary Mideast; we need them there. Moreover, these ancient communities are part of the world’s patrimony. We should not let them simply disappear.

For some Mideast Christians, though, emigration is the only viable option, and we should do more to welcome them to this country. That’s not to say we should exclude non-Christians, of course. But Christians are underrepresented among the Syrian refugees the US has admitted since the civil war began; again, Christians tend to avoid the UN refugee camps from which America processes applicants for admission. We have to find other ways to reach them and assure them of a welcome here.

America is partly responsible for the current plight of Mideast Christians. We have a moral duty to help them–either to remain safely in their homes or to escape the region and make new homes among us, if they view that as their only option.