News / Middle East

Concern Over Attacks on Middle East Christians Grows in Washington

Concern Over Attacks on Middle East Christians Grows in Washingtoni
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 17, 2014 7:59 PM
Human rights groups say attacks against Christians in the Middle East have multiplied in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and are triggering an exodus from the region. And Christian activists in the U.S. say President Barack Obama is not doing enough to prevent it. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Last August, the bloody crackdown on a Muslim Brotherhood protest camp in Cairo by Egyptian security forces drew international condemnation.

But less attention was paid to the scores of Coptic churches set ablaze and destroyed in the days that followed.

Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom says it was “the worst pogrom on Christians in Egypt for about 700 years.”

Across the Middle East, Christian minorities have been targeted in conflicts that ensued from what were supposed to be transitions to democracy.

Some Western leaders, including Pope Francis and Prince Charles, have expressed concern about the threat to Christians in the region that gave birth to the faith. And yet, in the United States, it has drawn relatively little attention outside of a few Christian groups and lawmakers.

Republican Congressman Christopher Smith has chaired several hearings on the matter recently.

“We are witnessing grievous violence and other forms of intimidation directed against religious and political minorities, particularly the Copts and other Christians about which our government and the media have said far too little,” he told a House of Representatives subcommittee at one of the hearings.

But activists concede it’s hard to press the issue because in the West, Christians are not widely seen as a vulnerable minority. Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya Television says the issue has little traction on both sides of the American political divide.

“The plight of the Christians may be lost on the left because they [the victims] are too Christian, and lost on the rightist groups, the conservative groups here, because they are foreign,” he says.

Melhem, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon, spoke at a recent discussion at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, titled “The Impact of Middle East Transitions on Christian Communities.”

He expressed frustration that “no one in America” accepts any responsibility for the Christian flight from Iraq, where the population is one-third the pre-U.S. invasion figure.

“After all, a large number of Iraqi Christians were forced to leave Iraq, when we as Americans had 150,000 men and women in Iraq,” he says.

There are fears of a similar decline in Syria, where the kidnapping of a group of Greek Orthodox nuns raised fears in the minority Christian community that they were being targeted by extremists among the anti-government fighters. They were released in March.

At the National Prayer Breakfast in February, President Barack Obama devoted his speech to religious freedom abroad.

“No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities, whether they’re Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, or Baha’i in Iran, or Coptic Christians in Egypt,” he said.

“We were really encouraged because at the prayer breakfast, he came out with a very strong statement,” said Jeff King of International Christian Concern, which runs the website persecution.org.

“But you look at the followup to that and there hasn’t been any,” he adds, noting that the president did not even bring up discrimination against Christians in his recent meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, where churches are banned.

King says President Obama “is very vocal on the subject of the persecution of the gay community” in other countries, even though he says Christians have been more frequent targets of killings.
Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypti
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 17, 2014 8:10 PM
Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.

At St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in suburban Washington, many churchgoers were alarmed at the latest report from Egypt of a young Coptic woman who was murdered by a Cairo mob who saw a crucifix hanging in her car windshield.

Reports of Coptic women being kidnapped and raped worry Sandy Salamon, who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eight. She says they are meant to humiliate the Copts as a people.

“It’s a weapon that - when that piece of your humanity is attacked, it’s very hard to …  fight back,” she said, adding that the humiliation is part of daily life.  

She recalls visiting Cairo just after the revolution, being out on the street with her mother and aunt.

“I’m not veiled. So, I’m walking down, clearly a Christian,” she said. “The looks, the language, even the body language is very threatening.”

Copts are the largest Christian minority in the region, and they say their church predates the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. According to Coptic tradition, it was established in the first century by Mark the Evangelist - a disciple of Jesus.

American-born priest Paul Girguis says that since the beginning, Copts have known martyrdom and suffering.

“There was an emperor that said, ‘I’m going to massacre the Christians until the blood in the streets reaches to the knees of my horse.’”

Still he says Copts are “a very resilient people,” and if they survived 20 centuries, they will overcome the hardships of the 21st.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs