In Syria, Christians at a Crossroads

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Syrian Christians

While the U.S. teeters on military action in Syria, one population is pleading with the West to reconsider: orthodox Christians. As the situation deteriorates in the Middle East, the Syrian Christian community is exposed, vulnerable, and worst of all, shrinking. Driven out of the country by the hundreds, Syria’s Christian community finds itself in the crossfires of a civil war that threatens to purge the country of a religious population whose only desire is a peaceful coexistence with others.

That dream seems very much at risk today, as the remnant of Syrian Christians — once 10% of the nation’s population — are forced out by radicals bent on imposing Islamic law. In June, Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) warned about the consequences of inaction and called on President Obama to protect the Syrian church, which statistics show are “even more fearful for their lives and safety than the rest of the Syrian population.”

And rightly so. On June 27, the violence escalated, as a suicide bomber took the lives of four innocent people in the Christian neighborhood of Damascus.In July, an Italian priest — also from Damascus — disappeared. Two months later, rebels with ties to Al Qaeda are suspected in his killing. The Middle East has always been a dangerous place for Christians — but never more so than now, as the persecuted church looks desperately to the West for help in ending the violence.

Those Christians who haven’t been driven out of the region live in fear of physical attacks, maiming, rape, imprisonment, torture, and kidnappings. Unfortunately for them, America’s foreign policy has a history of ignoring the plight of Christians — most recently in Iraq, where the population has dwindled from one million people to under 400,000 today. In Egypt, the U.S. has stood by and watched as 1,600 year-old churches are destroyed and the church is left, not only without the protection of the government, but also as the extremists’ greatest target.

Powerless to stop the persecution, Christians have two options: flee or be killed. Neighborhoods that were once home to Syria’s faithful, some of the oldest religious communities in the world, are virtual ghost towns now. One local Christian says families rushed to pack up their possessions with “little plan to come back.” Rebels roamed the streets, terrorizing the families. “We were tied and blindfolded and pushed down on our knees,” a man said. “One of the kidnappers leaned so close to my face I could feel his breath. He hissed: ‘Why don’t you become a Muslim? Then you can be free.'”

Meanwhile, the brave men and women who refuse to uproot their families continue to ask for help — to no avail. “We spoke to western diplomats asking for help, and everyone ignored us.” Not surprisingly, the Obama administration, which has shown little interest in protecting religious liberties in this country, continues to ignore the rights of Christians overseas.

As the Syria debate presses on in Congress, we urge members to take into consideration the plight of these Christians, who are trying to live out their faith in the midst of one of the worst human rights crises of modern times. For more on the atrocities, check out Ken Blackwell’s new Washington Post column,” Christians in the Crosshairs.”