A culture crying in the wilderness
by Mene Ukueberuwa
The New York–based Anglosphere Society recently pooled its efforts with the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture to host a forum titled “The Crisis for Christians in the Middle East.” The event, which was held on the evening of December 5, gathered a dozen scholars, priests, and activists (with some overlap among those categories) to address the ongoing mass murder of Christians in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt—a one-sided war being carried out by sovereign states and militias alike, always under the banner of fundamentalist Islam. Among the night’s speakers were the retired General Raymond Odierno, who oversaw the latter stretch of America’s armed conflict in Iraq, and the Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan—both of whom addressed the crisis for Christians with a frankness that was uncharacteristic of their respective offices.
Neither the Sheen Center, which lent its Loreto Theater on Bleecker Street to host the event, nor the Anglosphere Society, which conceived of the event and managed logistics, seems at first to be a natural fit to host a forum on Middle-Eastern violence. The Sheen Center, which describes its mission as the promotion of “thought and culture,” has tended to construe culture as consisting of the visual and performing arts, with plays and concert series anchoring their daily programming. The Anglosphere Society, founded in 2012 to defend the “historic values of English-speaking peoples,” has, justifiably, tended to limit its scope to issues that directly relate to the lives of Americans and Brits—such as the threat of terrorism on our own shores.
And yet, as Anglosphere’s director Amanda Bowman mentioned in her opening remarks, the fate of the imperiled Christians overseas is as relevant to the missions of both organizations as any part of their regular programming. For Anglosphere, to honor the Coptic and Eastern Rite Catholic communities under siege is to commemorate one of the historic founts of the Western tradition that they cherish, while for the Sheen Center, to celebrate the peaceful and resilient way of life in those communities is to recognize “culture” in its most visceral sense.
Each panel addressed the crisis from a distinct angle, suggesting the organizers’ intuition that their audience would be varied and have differing reasons to connect with the cause. There was a discussion of the continuous, overlooked presence of Christianity in the Middle East: the Princeton historians Michael Reynolds and Jack Tannous described the centuries of tumult endured by Syriac Christians. The next panel critiqued the unwillingness of the State Department to pay heed to the crisis, even after Secretary John Kerry acknowledged in May that “genocide” is underway. And General Odierno closed the opening set of discussions with examples of actionable, immediate steps that American armed forces could take to aid the Christians who are currently living at the mercy of the terrorist militias of the Levant. Armed safe zones and a ramped-up airlift extraction program are both feasible by the general’s telling—if only more Americans with a grasp of the catastrophe, and particularly those in the media, would demand action.
In what became the unofficial keynote of the program, the business magnate and former Ambassador to Austria Ronald Lauder resumed the general’s theme of denouncing inaction—including both that of the government and of the many private Christian groups represented in the audience. Lauder has taken up the cause of persecuted Christians because of his own devout Judaism; in his 2014 New York Times article “Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?” Lauder compared the slaughter of Middle-Eastern Christians to the Holocaust, and lamented that America’s response to the more recent cataclysm has been nearly as half-hearted as it was to the former. The similarity between the two events—years-long campaigns of total systematic murder and cultural erasure—should be obvious to anyone with an awareness of both. And yet, as Lauder explained with contempt in his remarks, observers have spent decades solemnly repeating the phrase “never again” while averting their eyes from the countless episodes of sustained mass murder that have played out since the 1940s.
Cardinal Dolan used his closing remarks to acquaint the audience with the names and faces of Christians who have been killed since the violence spiked in 2014. Echoing the plea of a Libyan bishop who had tearfully asked him to remember his people, Dolan asked the audience at the Sheen Center to remember the “Libyan Martyrs.” The group consisted of twenty-one Coptic Christians who were kidnapped and beheaded by ISIS militants in 2015 after declining to renounce their faith—including Mathew Ayairga, not originally a Christian, who converted and chose death in his adopted brothers’ midst. As he spoke, Dolan held up an icon of the martyrs painted by the Egyptian Copt Tony Rezk—an appropriate reminder to the Sheen Center crowd of the way in which visual crafts can express the unspeakable.
It is natural that in covering today’s romp of terror groups through the Middle East, the media tends to focus on acts of physical violence. The murder and maiming of innocent victims make for arresting television and front-page stories which, in addition to building an audience, can draw uninformed observers into the cause. This focus on the physical, however, overlooks an entire dimension of loss that occurs when a people are persecuted to the point of disappearance. That dimension, the dimension of culture, was what “The Crisis for Christians in the Middle East” addressed with unique success. Rather than adopt the thin rhetoric of “genocide”—which locates the tragedy of mass murder in the loss of a particular pool of genes—the event emphasized the principle that the Libyan Martyrs embodied in their death: the insistence that Christian belief and traditions ought not be uprooted from their ancient home.
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As a result of The Anglosphere Society's important forum, "The Crisis for Christians in the Middle East," and our hard work to see this Op-Ed in print, we're pleased to report that the New York Post published His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan's and Ambassador Ron Lauder's compelling and convincing piece, "A World Indifferent to Genocide."
A world indifferent to genocide
By Timothy Cardinal Dolan and Ron Lauder
This weekend, Jews and Christians will, together, celebrate the rare occurrence of the first night of Hanukkah falling on Christmas Eve. The last time this happened was 1959, when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.
This wonderful confluence serves as a powerful reminder of the shared roots of our two religions. Many of our Christian traditions grow out of Jewish practices, the Hebrew scripture comprises the first part of the Christian Bible and we find the Ten Commandments, brought down from Mt. Sinai by Moses, to be a sturdy foundation on which to build a life.
The bonds that tie Jews and Christians together are stronger than ever. Unfortunately, today they also share a bond over the burdens of persecution. Today, millions of Christians are facing discrimination, torment and death throughout the Middle East and parts of North Africa at the hands of radical Islamic terrorists, as well as from extremists in China and India. And, sadly, like Jewish victims of hatred throughout history, the world today seems completely indifferent to their plight.
Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed 25 Christian worshippers at Cairo’s Coptic cathedral complex during Sunday Mass. Every act of terror is outrageous, but targeting a religious service sends a very definite message — you will be killed because of the God you choose to worship. That’s a message Jews have heard throughout time.
It was the latest in a long series of attacks that have killed tens of thousands of Christians living in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria and Egypt. It has created a tidal wave of millions of refugees that is undermining the European continent. Christians have been tortured and murdered in the most medieval ways by groups like ISIS and Boko Haram.
Entire Christian communities, in the lands where Christianity began, have disappeared. While the vast majority of the victims in the most recent conflict are Sunni Arabs, Christians have been an ongoing target for decades.
The entire Christian community of Nineveh in Northern Iraq could be completely gone in four years. These are the people who speak Aramaic, the same language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth, with Christian roots that go back that far.
These horrific scenes make headlines but are soon forgotten — a poignant lesson in the silence Jews have long suffered under.
A little over a month ago, we passed the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht. On Nov. 9, 1938, Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked, Jews were beaten and murdered in the streets and over 1,000 synagogues were set on fire throughout Germany and Austria.
And while some individuals and groups denounced this horror, for the most part Western democracies said very little and did even less. Hitler was always watching and measuring the world’s response. When he heard mostly silence in the wake of Kristallnacht, he knew he had a free hand to deal with the Jews as he wished.
The terrorists committing these crimes today are adept at social media and they, too, see the lack of forceful reaction to their outrageous acts. Like the Nazis 78 years ago, their terror has only increased.
We realize that many decent people in the United States greet almost anything having to do with the Middle East with a sigh of resignation out of a sense that the problems in that region are either too complicated or have been going on for so long that any US involvement changes nothing and often brings even worse results.
But we believe dismissing the problem as “too complicated” is another way of avoiding it. In the end, it’s not really that complicated. We are talking about good and evil.
There actually are times when it’s that simple — World War II comes to mind. When human beings are burned alive, children beheaded and young girls kidnapped and sold into slavery, we are seeing pure evil. And the lesson of history is clear: Evil must be confronted.
Mere words have never stopped genocide. They must be backed up by action.
At a minimum, humanitarian aid should not be hampered, as it has been. Water, food, blankets and medical supplies promised more than two years ago by the United States and United Nations to the northern regions of Iraq have still not reached the Christian enclaves. There is no excuse.
Christmas is the season of hope and goodwill toward man. Hanukkah is the holiday of miracles. Both celebrate the victory of light over darkness. It strikes us that the world needs all four this year, and we’d add one more. Let’s end the silence, and tell the world in the strongest possible terms that this outrage against humanity must end — and it must end now.
Timothy M. Cardinal Dolan is the Archbishop of New York. Ronald S. Lauder is the president of the World Jewish Congress.
Strengthening the ties between the United States, United Kingdom, and the English speaking world.
The Anglosphere Society
Monday, December 5, 2016
The Crisis for Christians in the Middle East
An inter-faith evening forum with religious, civic and academic leaders
How to combat anti-Christian genocide and to support liberty and justice for all peoples in the Middle East
3:45 PM - DOORS OPEN (4:15 - 7:00 PM - PROGRAM )
SPECIAL GUEST SPEAKERS:
Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz - Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty where she leads a team of lawyers and communications professionals who defend our first freedom in the U.S. and abroad. She also serves as Commissioner at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan - Named Archbishop of New York by Pope Benedict XVI on February 23, 2009, and created Cardinal in 2012. He previously served as Archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002-2009. He has served as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and chairman of Catholic Relief Services. He currently serves as chair of the Pro-Life Activities Committee of the USCCB, co-chair of the National Jewish-Catholic Dialogue, and is a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Monsignor John E. Kozar — A priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Msgr. John E. Kozar was appointed president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) in 2011. Chaired by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, CNEWA is an agency of the Holy See founded in 1926 to support the works of the Eastern churches throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Despite the turmoil in the lands served by CNEWA, Msgr. Kozar makes frequent pastoral visits, including one last April with Cardinal Dolan to Iraqi Kurdistan. The former national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, Msgr. Kozar describes himself as a pastor on loan to the worldwide church.
Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder - International philanthropist, investor, art collector and former public servant, Ambassador Lauder has served as President of the World Jewish Congress since June 2007. From 1983 to 1986, Ambassador Lauder served in the U.S. Pentagon as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Affairs. In 1986 he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Austria by President Ronald Reagan. Upon his return from Vienna in 1987, he established the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which demonstrates his deep commitment to Jewish education and culture.
Judith Miller - Author and a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter formerly with The New York Times. She is now an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of its magazine, "City Journal" and she is a commentator for Fox News, speaking on terrorism and other national security issues, the Middle East and American foreign policy.
Robert Nicholson - Executive Director of the Philos Project, an American nonprofit that seeks to promote positive Christian engagement in the Middle East. Nicholson is also the publisher of "Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy." His work focuses on spreading the vision of a new multi-ethnic and multi-religious Middle East based on freedom and rule of law. Nicholson's continued advocacy for the creation of a safe haven for religious minorities in the Nineveh Plain region of Iraq contributed to a Congressional resolution calling for U.S. support of the venture. He has been published in The American Interest, The Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.
General Raymond T. Odierno - General Odierno served as the 38th Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 2011 to 2015. During almost 40 years of service, he commanded at every echelon, with duty worldwide. While commanding the 4th Infantry Division during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM in December 2003, the division was responsible for the capture of Iraq’s deposed dictator, Saddam Hussein. He then served as the primary military advisor to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He later served as the Commander of US Forces-Iraq until 2010. Currently, General Odierno is a Senior Advisor to JPMorgan Chase, the National Football League, and is Chairman of the Board for Eastern Airlines.
Professor Michael Reynolds - Associate professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University, where he teaches courses on modern Middle Eastern and Eurasian history, comparative empire, military and ethnic conflict, and secularism. He is currently a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and he is also a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
Nina Shea - An international human-rights lawyer for over thirty years, Nina Shea joined Hudson Institute as a Senior Fellow in November 2006, where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom. By undertaking original research and analysis and through extensive writing, Shea advocates for the advancement of individual religious freedom and other human rights in U.S. foreign policy. She was appointed by the U.S. House of Representatives to serve seven terms as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Juliana Taimoorazy - Fellow of The Philos Project, and the Founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council which she founded to help foster awareness about the plight of the Iraqi Christians, and to raise funds to deliver food and medicine to Iraq. She fled Iran in 1989 to escape religious persecution, eventually to become the executive producer of the human rights film “Sing a Little Louder.”
Professor Jack Tannous – assistant Professor, History Department, Princeton University. Professor Tannous’s interests and research concentrations are the Syriac-speaking Christian communities of the Near East, Eastern Christian Studies more broadly, Christian-Muslim interactions, early Islamic history, the history of the Arabic Bible, and the Quran.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center for Thought & Culture
18 Bleecker Street, New York, NY
TAS is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Membership dues are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
Christian Bale Movie
A historical drama starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, set against the Christian persecution during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Promises are made and promises are broken. The one promise that must be kept is to live on and tell the story.
The screening will be followed by a talkback with Eric Esrailian, producer of the film.
Sheen Center - Loreto Theater
18 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10012