In the midst of the media hype about President Trump’s latest executive order, the plight of persecuted Christians seeking resettlement in the USA has not only been lost sight of, it is being trampled underfoot. In fact, as so often happens, persecuted Christians are caught in the crossfire between two opposing sides.
On the one hand, just over a year ago following the December 2015 San Bernardino shootings when Islamists killed 14 people, Donald Trump’s campaign team announced:
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Whilst every government has a duty to ensure that those it allows into its country respect its values and do not pose a threat to its citizens, any form of discrimination against the members of one religion as a whole group is simply wrong.
On the other hand, when on Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January), President Trump issued an executive order that re-orientated the USA’s refugee policy to focus on persecuted religious minorities, it was widely hyped around the world as an “anti-Muslim ban”. The sensationalist reporting that rapidly spread around the world was deeply irresponsible because, whenever claims of the West being anti-Muslim are broadcast, radical sentiment gets inflamed in Islamic countries and Christian minorities tend to suffer.
In fact, Syrian Christians refugees are already being caught in the crossfire between these two camps. Under the Obama administration they suffered massive discrimination. Despite US Secretary of State John Kerry having conceded in March that Christians, Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims were facing genocide, of the 10,801 Syrian refugees resettled in the USA last year there were only 56 Christians, 17 Yazidis and 20 Shi’as, while 99% were Sunni Muslims. This was despite it being widely accepted that Christians constituted up to 10% of Syria’s pre-war population.
In announcing the executive order President Trump specifically said that he wanted to deal with this injustice. Yet this is the order that is now being portrayed as an “anti-Muslim ban” leading to large scale protests around the world.
In fact, the order does not even mention “Muslim”, or “Islam” or any indeed any specific religion. It does two main things:
Firstly, (section 2) it suspends visas being issued to nationals of seven countries for the next 90 days so that the US administration can conduct a review of how to ensure that people from those countries are not a security threat. These countries, which are not actually named in the executive order, but are part of a separate list compiled annually by the US Department for Homeland Security are: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Although these are all Muslim-majority countries, in Iraq it is Christians who will be disproportionately affected by the executive order. Of the 2.1 million Iraqis who have fled that country since the second Iraq war in 2003 approximately 1.4 million have been Christians. In fact 90% of the Christian population of Iraq have now fled due to a targeted campaign of attacks on them since 2003 by a whole range of jihadists including Islamic State.
Secondly, (section 5) it suspends the US refugee admissions programme for 120 days in order to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religion-based persecution”. In other words, it is actually seeking to do something about the genocide of Christians and other religious minorities that is currently happening in the Middle East. Despite opposition by some Christian leaders, Barnabas Fund has been calling for Western governments to recognise the existence of religious-based persecution, especially of minorities in the Middle East. However, apart from the scheme set up in Australia by Tony Abbott, no other country in the world has taken in significant numbers of Christians and other minorities affected by this genocide. In other words, it may be a blunt instrument, which in some instances actually affects Christians more than Muslims, but at least it aims to correct the appalling indifference and discrimination that persecuted Christians fleeing the Middle East have faced till now.
Yet this is now all being shouted down, and persecuted Christians risk being trampled underfoot as a result of irresponsible media reporting. They are caught between anti-Muslim rhetoric such as that issued by the Trump campaign a year ago and a deeply irresponsible reaction by anti-Trump supporters claiming this is a “Muslim ban”. Both of these claims risk inflaming radical sentiment in Muslim-majority countries where Christian minorities are already vulnerable to attack.
Can we therefore make a plea for everyone to calm down and remember that right now there are Christians fleeing genocide in the Middle East and others whose vulnerability to attack by mobs of radical Muslims has just been massively increased by the current media storm?