By Ben Jury
A few weeks ago, I attended a cultural event at the French Embassy a block away from Georgetown during the 2015 In Defense of Christians leadership summit.
In Defense of Christians (IDC) is an American-based non-profit organization whose mission is to “ensure the protection and preservation of Christianity and Christian culture in the Middle East.” With multiple chapters across the United States, as well as one in Toronto, the group advocates and lobbies for persecuted Christians communities in the Middle East. In 2014, the group made headlines after Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was allegedly booed off stage during his speech at the organization’s national leadership convention solidarity dinner after claiming that “today, Christians have no better ally [in the Middle East] than the Jewish state [of Israel].”
Some past speakers at these leadership conventions include the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, the only Congress member of Assyrian descent Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and many others.
Speakers and staff members repeated this call for recognition frequently at their cultural showcase “Celebrating Christian Art and Culture from the Middle East” at the French Embassy in Washington DC. The event, which featured musical performances by Assyrian musicians and singers as well as poetry recitations and presentations, related to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians. The master of ceremonies at the event repeated the IDC motto: “we must stand together and defend our brothers and sisters in the Middle East” several times, though never seeming to refer to any other group but Middle Eastern Christians.
The focus of the evening, however, was unquestionably the three short documentaries shown in the first half of the evening. The first, entitled The Last Plight, told the story of the Iraqi minorities’ humanitarian crisis after the 2014 ISIS attacks in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains. Sargon Saadi, the director, is a Los Angeles-based Syrian filmmaker. The second documentary, Mountain of Servants, by journalist Daniel Lombroso, chronicles the plight of Syriac Christians in Southeast Turkey, specifically in Tur Abdin. Finally, IDC screened a short trailer for a film entitled Our Last Stand directed by senior IDC advisor Jordan Allot, depicting the situation in Iraq and Syria, as well as the ways Christians in the region defined their land, families, and faith.
The 2015 leadership summit had one clear goal: to successfully lobby and pass legislation in which the United States officially recognizes the mass persecution and killings of Middle Eastern Christians, especially those in the Nineveh Plain and Mount Sinjar, as genocide.
There does not appear to be any overt political motive to officially recognizing these massacres and forced relocations as part of a Christian Genocide. These actions are not being perpetrated by an internationally recognized state that has signed the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (e.g. the Islamic State). Consequentially, there seems to be no legal recourse with the International Court of Justice or International Criminal Court for such a crime. Additionally, it would be extremely difficult to feasibly order reparations or the return of land to the descendents of those affected, not to mention the inability to effect economic sanctions, considering the Islamic State’s status as a non-state (or quasi-state) actor.
Nevertheless, recognizing the persecution of Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, and other minority groups in the region as genocide will certainly draw international condemnation of the attacks and likely encourage more Western allies forces to join the fight against ISIS. Moreover, genocide recognition would also facilitate the process of healing for the communities who have been the victims of such awful atrocities.
Yet one key factor is left out of this discussion of recognition: the systematic oppression and persecution Palestinian Christians, Muslims, and other religious groups have suffered since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of their lands. Many of the key factors discussed in these videos directly mirror the experience of Palestinians in the present-day state of Israel: forced relocation, systematic and targeted violence and discrimination, among other acts. In Defense of Christians and the proposed legislation remain utterly silent on these issues. When one begs the question why, several possible scenarios play themselves out. IDC may be focusing on the more rampant (i.e. newsworthy) persecution in the Nineveh Plains and elsewhere, rather than the more than the slow burning 67-year occupation of Palestine. Ultimately, the call to recognize the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians by terrorist organizations as a genocide rings false without the acknowledgement of the past genocide and on-going apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories.