By Father John McCloskey
As anyone who is paying attention today knows, Christians in the Middle East are undergoing widespread persecution — and even martyrdom. Our Western media don’t much report on it, and our political leaders don’t much notice, however, because it might require them actually to do something. And as a result, it’s not always easy to get a detailed picture of exactly what’s going on.
George Marlin — a noted former public official, author of many books, board chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, USA, and sometimes The Catholic Thing columnist has provided a remedy. His latest book, “Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy,” is a thorough history of the ongoing persecution, along with some useful documents and statements by church figures both there and here.
Marlin opens with an overview of the birth and rise of Christianity in the Middle East, and then follows that up with the birth of Islam and the rise of Islamic terrorism in the region. He provides a well-researched account of persecutions of Christians in Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and finishes with Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
As the reader will see, this is not a book merely about the more recent episodes in places like Libya or Pakistan. Marlin situates the present troubles in a wider examination of the recurrent persecution of Christianity by Islamic forces throughout the centuries, country by country, backed up frequently by documents, particularly from the last several centuries, and not only persecution of Catholics, but of Protestants as well.
Indeed, attacks on Christianity by Muslims have taken place not only in the Middle East, but in countries such as the Philippines, a historically Catholic nation, and also in other places in Asia that have a large Christian presence.
Marlin puts all this very well in his introduction, in which he expresses the need for a “testimonial to the real suffering, courage, and faith of those Christians who have chosen to remain in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, amidst the chaos of civil war in the shadow of the constant and still growing threat of ISIS.
The church leaders who speak in these pages are risking their lives to remain with their people. The faithful, living under constant threat and in chaotic conditions, often without work or proper sustenance, are choosing to remain where they have lived for centuries as a witness to the gospel.”
During the Cold War, Christians behind the Iron Curtain would sometimes complain that it was not they who were the Silent Church. It was we, in the West, who remained silent while their freedoms and faith were insulted and suppressed.
This book fervently implores Christians in the West never to forget the suffering of their persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East who, in addition to struggling with discrimination, persecution, and actual martyrdom, also often feel that they have been abandoned by their fellow believers. Indeed this is among the greatest crosses they have to bear.
“We feel forgotten and isolated, we sometimes wonder that, if they will kill us all, what would be the reaction of the Christians in the West? Would they do something then?” Such is the plea from the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako.
So it is very helpful to have a comprehensive account about a Holocaust, which over many centuries has taken millions of Christian lives and is threatening many more. In God’s inscrutable wisdom, he has fated us to live in an era of rejuvenated Islamic aggression and religious fundamentalism, while Western Christianity shows signs of imploding due to unrestrained materialism and a refusal to acknowledge the moral norms of the natural law.
I sometimes ask myself how we, in what remains of Christendom, cannot at the very least offer refuge in the United States for any Christian family prepared to become citizens? I am not at all sure that military action is a proper or effective solution. But we cannot stand by doing nothing.
We have a responsibility, not only to defend our own religious freedoms from the inroads of Obamacare and the assaults of those who do not recognize our right to oppose same-sex marriage, but also to accept fellow Christians from nations with no legal or actual defenses against religious persecution.
Even if our opportunities to pressure or influence Islamic governments are minimal, we can offer sanctuary and religious freedom to others, while we still have it. In fact, seeing the threats to religious belief around the world may help us to become more appreciative ourselves of the protections afforded faith groups by our Constitution.
And let us not be blind to the fact that, while it may be happening in the Middle East now, it can also happen here.