Human Rights and Religious Wrongs in the Middle East

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on March 20, 2015

“Media coverage is not about ratings, it is about lives,” Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos said during a panel at the National Press Club this past week. He’s based in London and came to the United States, as he has frequently in past months, to raise alarms, make pleas and express gratitude.

Much of what most Americans know of the Middle East involves violence and impossible struggles. But His Grace Angaelos is here to deliver a different message. Don’t get caught up in ideology and don’t make assumptions. Misreporting and misquoting can unintentionally feed violence, Angaelos warns.

This particular panel discussion was sponsored by a group called In Defense of Christians and called “Sensitivity Rather than Sensationalism: Western Media Coverage of Human Rights and Religious Issues in the Middle East.”

Just as the media has a responsibility to accurately and humanely depict the tragedy and suffering of persecuted groups in the Middle East, we as responsible citizens have a duty to think and act appropriately. We must not give in to the sense of powerlessness that often comes when we think about complicated tragedies occurring far away.

For Christians, the persecution of Christians is a family affair, as Johnnie Moore puts it in a new book, Defying ISIS. Moore, formerly a pastor at Liberty University, felt the need to do something. In his book, he tells the stories of some of the Iraqi and Syrian Christians who now live in refugee camps, having fled their homes on account of ISIS. When I ask him what the average American can do, he advised: “1. Pray every day. 2. Give. 3. Educate yourself. 4. Keep unrelenting pressure on politicians. 5. Tell the stories of those in harm’s way. 6. Use #DEFYINGISIS to raise a storm on social media.”

The courage of these persecuted Christians should provide an example to Americans, who have in many ways taken religious freedom for granted.

Bishop Angaelos is grateful that the stories of the 21 Christians killed by an ISIS death squad — a slaughter that was brazenly trumpeted in a video released by the terrorist group — were of interest to the Western media and told with sensitivity. We heard mainstream media sources tell of the faith and work of these men and the faith and forgiveness of their families.

We must be careful about terminology and generalizations, Angaelos says. It’s not, for instance, “the Muslim world.” There are Chaldean Christians there. There are Maronite Christians there. There are Coptic Christians there. Robert Destro, a law professor at the Catholic University of America, who moderated the discussion, added that there is an astounding amount of ignorance about Christianity in the Middle East.

I think of violence against Christians throughout the world — a friend who often works in Haiti just told me of the rash of horrific violence that nuns, among others, are experiencing at the hands of mysterious assailants 3 and yet they serve on. I think of a 71-year-old religious sister who was gang-raped recently in India, who forgave the men who attacked her. Undeserved love and forgiveness can be a powerful countercultural witness in an atmosphere of hatred, despair, exhaustion and exasperation. It can be light in a darkening world.

Some months ago, Pope Francis stated emphatically that the world cannot allow Christians to vanish from the Middle East. I thought of this as Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said during the panel question-and-answer period: “Listen to what terrorists say. They will often tell you their mission … ‘Rome next’ was not a theoretical flourish.”

As Holy Week and Easter approach, the Christians of the Middle East threatened by ISIS are walking the difficult way of the Cross. As they do so, we could afford to stop, look, listen and support them. For their sakes and our own.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].

COPYRIGHT 2015 United Feature Syndicate


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