The ongoing destruction and dislocation of the Christian population in Iraq and Syria as a result of brutal persecution is a profound human tragedy. Entire communities, having fled their historic homes, now face the terrible choice imposed by the jihadists of the Islamic State: submit to Islam, leave, or be killed.
Images from the rolling deserts of Northern Iraq represent only the most recent episode in a harrowing trend. While Christian populations in the region have experienced ongoing decline over the past 60 years — comprising an estimated 18% of the regional population in 1948 vs. less than 8% in 2010 — the emergence of fundamentalist, political Islam has resulted in a dramatic escalation of violent persecution of Christian groups.
The rich spiritual and cultural heritage of the 2,000 year-old Christian communities established by the Apostles is now vanishing. The 1400-year history of co-existence between Christians, Muslims, and a myriad of other faiths — while not always respectful — is now ending. The cradle of Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East is being effectively de-Christianized.
In the past, we in the West have been reluctant to speak out on behalf of persecuted Christian groups abroad. Whether this reflects a domestic cultural instinct to shy away from public reference to religion, or a concern that such advocacy could be somehow cast as renewed Western imperialism, the consequences of continued silence are the same. Christians in the Middle East now live under the very real threat of eradication.
Canadians must speak out consistently and loudly in defence of the inherent human dignity of these persecuted people. While we must defend the freedom of religion of any and all communities under threat, the time to speak up for Christians in the Middle East is now.