Douglas Roche


April 4, 2016

How should we respond to the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities now going on in the Middle East and Africa before our very eyes? One thing I know for certain: silence is not the answer.

Matthew Fisher, a veteran Canadian correspondent, recently reported that the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) "is hell-bent on exterminating ancient Christian communities across the Middle East." The situation is so bad that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared ISIL was guilty of "genocide" against Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria.

Pope Francis has also used the word "genocide" in describing the outrageous killings of innocent people.

Open Doors, a 60-year-old U.K. NGO, which works in 50 countries to support persecuted Christians, issues regular reports.

Its latest report states that persecution of Christians is becoming more intense in more countries and that Islamic extremism is a significant engine of persecution in 40 of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. "Islamic State violence in Iraq and Syria has increased the pace of the exodus of the Christian population from the Middle East and is having a global impact."

While Christians are at greatest peril in Iraq and Syria, they are also at grave risk from Sunni extremists from Tripoli, Cairo and Aden to Baghdad. Fisher reports that Christian enclaves in and near the Holy Land are being bludgeoned to death or slowly fading away.

Even Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Yemen, who care for the elderly, have not escaped. Four nuns and 12 others were bound and shot in the head, then a priest was kidnapped. The North Korea regime is exterminating Christianity within its own borders.

Now we know. Human rights violations, particularly against religious people in many parts of the world, are egregious. They cry out to be addressed by the highest legal and political instruments we have.

But I see impotency. The International Criminal Court is bogged down in a few African cases. The UN Security Council appears paralyzed. The vaunted peacekeeping missions are nowhere to be found when the jihadist slaughters take place.

The news media has not ignored this painful story, as I have noted, but the brunt of mainline media coverage has been sparse.

For the most part, the Western world has been silent at religious atrocities. Once in a while, there has been coverage of the willful destruction of cultural artifacts that have come down through the centuries, but of the rampages of killings of Christians virtually nothing.


Is this void of concern caused by our inability to figure out a response? Have our brains become so accustomed to absorbing the violence that dominates TV that we have become morally de-sensitized? Have we given up thinking that there must be a non-violent way to combat terrorism?

I am wrestling with the answers to all these questions. Of course, I know the UN Security Council is charged with maintaining peace and security in the world and, if it was doing its job, it would have a permanent peacekeeping force deployed to contentious areas to enforce peace.

I also know that the criminals who cut off people's heads because of their cultural or religious beliefs would, in a world where the institutions of peace are solidly grounded, be quickly brought to justice. But we don't yet live in a world where the institutions of peace are solid.

How do we build a world that will successfully function on the principles of non-violence? All my questions revolving around the revolting persecution of Christians come down to that one.

The UN, through its many agencies, is trying to build such a world, and many accomplishments have been recorded. But this long-range view, I daresay, is not much consolation to those facing brutal executioners today.


I am driven back to the moment. We must respond to the persecution of Christians taking place in our time. Open Doors has noted a promising development in which Christians are finding new unity in the face of the jihadist onslaught.

Also, new co-operative relationships are being forged between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East; a new and broader understanding of Christianity may result from the martyrdom of many Christians today.

But even if a stronger, more united, Christianity emerges, isn't it our duty to speak up now and demand that our political processes employ the machinery of peace to stop religious killings?

We can do something: we can speak up for our brothers and sisters. We can pierce the sound of silence.