n September 9, 2014, a conference organized by the newly formed group "In Defense of Christians" (IDC), will be addressing the issue of "persecution of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS." The event is very well funded and a sophisticated outreach has been mobilizing Mideast Christian churches in the United States over the past few months to participate in great numbers. The board of IDC includes prominent citizens, former government officials, and experts in the field of international religious freedom. The context of the conference, with one day in Congress and another day at a DC hotel is very appealing to the public. Christians in northern Iraq were ethnically cleansed from Mosul back in June and from the Nineveh plain--the last geographical enclave for Christian Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs in Iraq--in July. More than 400,000 Christians are refugees in Kurdistan with no immediate hope for a return home. Scores of Christians have been killed, raped, and kidnapped by the Jihadists of ISIS, as were Yazidis and other Iraqis. Christians of Iraq and Syria--and before there, in Egypt--have been under persecution and submitted to violence for the past few years. In short, the cause is a good one, and most of the official workers for such a conference are well intentioned. However, the American public must be informed: while the narrative of IDC is directed at ISIS violence, the conference is intentionally or not, profiting the Iranian and Syrian regimes and Hezbollah.
Readers may be stunned by this assertion, but here are the facts and some of the evidence:
Iranian Christians Absent
The conference is surely condemning the Jihadists of ISIS, but it is ignoring the oppression by the Iranian regime against its own Christian community, particularly the Iranian Persian Christians. Many Americans are aware of the horrific jailing in Iran of Pastor Saeed Abidini whose only crime was his conversion to Christianity. With countless other pastors and activists assassinated, tortured, and jailed for years, an "In Defense of Christians" conference in Washington should at a minimum invite Iranian Christian dissidents and victims to testify about the Ayatollahs regime's brutality against the community. Obviously, there are Christians who work with the Khomeinist regime inasmuch as there were French collaborating with the Nazis in WWII or "official churches" under the Soviet Bloc. Free Iranian Christians have not been seen at the IDC meetings.
Assad's War on Christians Ignored
The Assad regime's massive brutality against Lebanon's Christian community during the war of 1975-1990 has nowhere been cited at the conference. Neither is the torture, jailing and assassinations of hundreds of Christian citizens, politicians and journalists under Syrian occupation between 1990 and 2005 included. Two Christian presidents, many Christian ministers, members of parliament, and students were killed by the Assad regime, but the conference has ignored this tragedy and no speaker is slated to address the issue. In addition, the Christians who are opposing Bashar Assad were not invited while those who claim he protects them are omnipresent.
Hezbollah Terror Deleted
Hezbollah, a violent pro-Iranian organization on the US terror list that has eliminated, kidnapped and threatened Lebanese Christians (as well as members from other communities) will not be condemned. Victims of its violence and terror are not scheduled to speak.
Iraqi Christians Put Under Iranian Supervision
Last week, Iraqi Christians accompanied by Middle East Christian NGOs lodged a demand at the United Nations to form their own internationally protected zone in the north and form their own local defense force under UN supervision. The forces behind the IDC conference want these same Christians to become a unit within the Iranian influenced Iraqi Army which will be a recipe for disaster.
In addition to these four fundamental sins, the IDC Conference suffers from ominous problems. The first series of problems are the groups who are not participating or were not invited.
The most significant missing piece of all is the Copts of Egypt. This largest Christian community is about four times the size of all other Christian groups in the Middle East combined. They too have been under increasing harassment and persecution in the past few years at the hands of Jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood. Coptic Solidarity, the largest international federation of Egyptian Christians is not speaking. Instead of including the official international body of the Christian Copts, IDC invited a woman involved in orphanage activities to speak. The organizing team wanted to secure the name "Copt," but not the actual Coptic people.
IDC's administrators ignored the three decades long activities of the Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC) – a coalition of Maronites, Assyrians, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Copts, Southern Sudanese and other Christian NGOs who have been the backbone of international outreach to the international community at the European Parliament, the US Congress and lately at the United Nations. Why? Because MECHRIC condemns the Salafi Jihadists as well as the Iranian and Assad regimes and Hezbollah.
The World Maronite Union, which was founded in 1979 in the diaspora and has been active around the world to free Lebanon from Syria's occupation and disarm Hezbollah, is not on the invitation list either. No Middle East Christians opposed to Iran, Assad and Hezbollah will be speaking.
An impressive feature of the IDC event is the appearance of five Levantine Patriarchs. This emotional gathering of the spiritual leaders has undoubtedly drawn many members of our communities to attend. But geopolitical realities must not be forgotten. The seats of these Patriarchates are in Iranian-dominated capitals, in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. The spiritual leaders will be definitely and rightly so, lamenting ISIS barbaric acts but will they criticize the Tehran-Damascus regimes?
While some speakers, such as Nina Shea and Thomas Farr, have spoken against persecution of Christians, the keynote speaker, Jim Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, has been perceived by Middle East minorities as their arch-foe in Washington for years. A long-time critic of Maronite and Lebanese Christians, he has for decades rejected the rights of Christian minorities to set themselves apart from Arab nationalism. Even in this conference he ignores the ethnic identity of Aramaic and Copts and insists on calling all the minorities--though only a few are really Arabs--"Arab Christians." Zogby has been an ally of the anti-Israel Arab lobby and of the Islamist Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and continues to defend the totalitarian regime of Assad. How can a Middle East Christian conference trust its ideological leadership to the head of the anti-minorities lobby in the United States?
Another troubling possibility, according to statements made in a previous similar conference held in Beirut, is that IDC's gathering will be most likely taken next year to Jerusalem for a copycat event. No one, however, should expect that such an event would befriend Israel. Just the opposite: expect Israel bashing.
But what is the impetus behind such an event? It it most likely that the board of the group means well and is not aware of the overarching problem. But based on analysis and on the above facts, Iran and Syria's regimes are taking advantage of the world's attention on ISIS's horrors to sweep through the Middle East Christian communities, seize political control within them, and use them in the region in the service of Baghdad's pro-Iranian leaders, the Assad regime, and Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon. Iran and Syria want to buy their legitimization as partners in the war against ISIS by claiming that they are protecting the Christians, the first victims of the Jihadists. IDC's conference would then be unwittingly playing the role of a Trojan horse, or a bridge, for Tehran and Damascus, allowing them to thrust themselves into the American Christian community in order to gain its support for a partnership with Assad and normalization with the Mullahs.
With such heavy problems, this event cannot be identified as Middle East Christian conference. In fact it has become a Dhimmi conference at the service of Iran, Assad and Hezbollah.
John Hajjar is a member of the Executive Committee of the Middle East Christian Committee MECHRIC a coalition of Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean, Maronite, Coptic, Melkite and other Middle East Christian NGOs.