Islamic militants are committing genocide against Christians across the Middle East, warned scholar Dr. Habib Malik Tuesday night at Lafayette College.
He also warned those militants have the West squarely in their sights “as the ultimate target.”
“There is much alarming evidence pointing to pervasive persecution of Christians worldwide for no reason other than that they are Christian,” said Malik, who is an associate professor of history and cultural studies at Lebanese American University in Byblos, Lebanon.
“The bulk of this oppression occurs in Islamic majority regions, from Nigeria to Mindanao in the southern Philippines, but it is also documented in parts of India, China and North Korea.
“Middle Eastern Christians who happen to reside in the epicenter of the world of Islam receive the lion’s share of this unsolicited abuse and attention.”
Malik said ISIS is guilty of constant “sub-beastial behavior” and named the atrocities of those Islamic militants: “Public beheadings, mass sexual enslavement of women and children, systematic destruction of places of worship and archeological sites, terror attacks on innocent civilians, instruction of the very young in the art of mass slaughter, deliberate ethnic, religious and cultural cleansing and other outrages.”
“Barbaric” punishments in regions of the Middle East controlled by ISIS include flogging for drinking alcohol, amputation of limbs for theft, stoning for adultery and execution for apostasy, reported Malik.
He said Christians living in Syria and Iraqi have faced choices of forced conversion, humiliation, exile or a horrible death by ISIS.
In a number of notorious cases, said Malik, those “ghastly alternatives” were not even an option. “Instead, wholesale destruction, slaughter and enslavement — mainly of the sexual sort — befell the Christians.”
He said all those crimes “are being perpetrated, proudly, by self-professing Muslims.”
“There is a compelling case to be made for labeling what ISIS is doing as genocide, ” said Malik. “Genocide doesn’t require that every last member of a targeted population be killed in order for us to be able to use that term.”
Malik was introduced by Dr. Eric Ziolkowski, head of the department of religious studies at Lafayette, who told the audience his topic “could hardly be more timely or more grave.”
His lecture was entitled “What Native Christians in the Middle East Continue to Face: Why it Matters for Both the Caring and the Unconcerned.”
The issue certainly mattered to a crowd estimated at 150 Lafayette students and others who packed a lecture hall in Kirby Hall of Civil Rights on the Easton campus to hear Malik speak.
In a no-holds-barred speech that continued for well over an hour, Malik criticized both moderate Muslims and the governments of Western Europe for failing to effectively intervene to stop Islamic extremists and save Christians.
He reminded the audience that native Christians have been living in the Middle East for more than 20 centuries, since the dawn of Christianity —“in and around the land of the Lord’s incarnation and resurrection.”
But he said they now are threatened with “nothing less than termination.”
He said the Christian communities that remain are tenacious remnants of far larger communities that steadily dwindled over time, primarily because of stresses and pressure brought on by Islam.
Now the rise of militant and violent Islamism, combined with pervading apathy in the rest of the world, “threaten to hasten the final demise of Christianity in and around its original birthplace.”
Not all Christians living in the Middle East have fallen victim to rape, terror and expulsion — “at least not yet,” said Malik. But developments since the “misnamed Arab Spring first erupted” in 2011 have been ominous, and represent “an acceleration of a process of emasculation.”
Malik reported 10 million to 12 million Christians lived in the Middle East before 2011. “Today their numbers have shrunk by at least 20 percent overall,” said the professor.
He said “indiscriminate murder, forced dispossession and enslavement by jihadis” have forced many Christians to emigrate out of the Middle East. In Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, the number of Christians has dropped by 40 percent within the last seven years, reported Malik.
“Without tangible material support and security guarantees, this hemorrhaging of Christians out of the Middle East will continue.”
He suggested some responsibility for that bleak future for Middle Eastern Christians lies with “today’s largely post-Christian, secular Europe — and in the West as a whole.”
Malik said struggling Christian communities in Muslim-dominated counties predate Islam, but should not be “relegated in the Western mind to the ossified status of living relics.”
He said those communities “are living repositories of the deepest spiritual values that formed European civilization” but their plight gets little sympathy or support from the West.
A Christian and a native of Lebanon, Malik is a scholar and author whose books include “Islamism and the Future of the Christians of the Middle East.”
He said atrocities against those Christians— as well as the threat to the rest of the world — will continue until the Islamic State is destroyed by decisive military action.
“Air strikes are not going to do it on their own. You’re going to need troops on the ground. This is an urgent task for the big powers of the world to undertake.”
He such such military action should have the blessing of concerned Christian leaders, even if those spearheading it are the forces of embattled Syrian President Assad on the ground, supported by Russian airpower.
Even in Washington, said Malik, the thinking now is: “If Assad and the Russians can do the dirty work on the ground and get rid of ISIS, that may be the best thing.”
“ISIS is so bad that anything that stands next to it starts to look good,” he said.
“The Syrian army, supported by the Russians in the air, will eliminate ISIS. But there’s gong to be heavy civilian toll, I’m afraid, because ISIS uses human shields.”
He said the Saudis and Turks have threatened to launch a ground attack against ISIS, but added that only raises more worries. He said Saudi Arabian ideology is identical to that of ISIS and was one of its main inspirations.
“I’m not even sure Saudi troops, if they go in, won’t join ISIS,” said Malik. “The arsonist cannot double as the fireman.”
He said Turkey has purchased “illicitly extracted oil” from ISIS on the black market and has funneled arms and fighters to ISIS.
He warned that destroying ISIS will not end Islamist extremism. “This is a chronic problem of momentous proportions requiring that the civilized world display the needed endurance and determination for the long haul.”
“Frustratingly absent in this unfolding drama have been any concrete signs of courageous and assertive Sunni Islamic moderation capable of confronting, discrediting and ultimately defeating the violent extremists,” declared Malik.
He maintained too many moderate Muslims “are in a state of utter denial” that atrocities being committed by militants can stem from “Islam the religion.”
“Within Sunni Islam itself, there continues to thrive a centuries old and quite consistent tradition of extremism and intolerance, to the point of violently canceling out the different ‘others.’ That tradition has a name. It’s known as Hanbalism.”
He said that ideology considers non-Muslims, and even some Muslims, “as being heretical beyond the pale and open to being killed.”
He acknowledged some moderate Muslims have been vocal, saying King Abdullah II of Jordan has said extremists have hijacked Islam and mainstream moderates should take back their religion from those who have perverted it. “However, this call has not been widely heeded,” said Malik.
He said the chief mufti of Cairo, reputedly the highest religious authority in Sunni Islam, also repeatedly has spoken out against the extremists, but has yet to issue sweeping and authoritative religious rulings with binding power that would de-legitimize them.
He maintained moderates Muslims are inclined to be “cowed into silence and inaction," especially when faced with a militant minority in their midst that is “targeting moderates like them.”
He said moderate Sunni Muslims have “an urgent duty” to do more than disassociate themselves from terrorist outrages after the fact, by lamenting that such carnage is not reflective of true Islam.
They should be “fingering boldly” terrorists that may be hiding in their midst, vigorously teaching their children to embrace Quranic interpretations that abhor violent jihadi militancy and integrating constructively in the wider society if they have chosen to live in the West.
He said those living in predominately Muslim countries should courageously champion a moderation agenda that includes defending non-Muslim minorities.
Christians in Lebanon and Egypt
Malik has dual Lebanon/US citizenship.
Despite naming many problems in its government and society, he said Lebanon has “the freest and most open society in the Arab Middle East.” It has the only remaining free and entrenched regional Christian community and offers its Christian residents peaceful co-existence.
“Lebanon’s Christians may be the freest, but Egypt’s Coptic Christians are by far the largest Christian community native to the Middle East,” said Malik.
He estimated Egypt has eight to 10 million Coptic Christians, about 10 percent of its population. He said they fell prey to “continuous harassment and bloody assaults by fanatics under the brief rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.” But he said the situation has improved under the current Egyptian government that replaced the Muslim Brotherhood.
Malik said too many followers of Islam equate Christianity with the West. “Islamic thinking is never completely free of this intimate association between what is Western and what is Christian. This is a deep-seated and centuries old outlook.”
He said that outlook sees the world divided into two opposing armed camps — “the abode of Islam, where Muslims exist as a majority and rule, and everywhere else, which is the abode of war, confusion and infidelity, at whose expense Islam is destined to expand and triumph.”
He said that engrained Islamic attitude “hardly factors in” more than 200 years of steady secularization that Western civilization has undergone or Western separation of religion and politics. Instead, Islam views the West as a mirror image of itself, “where religion and politics remain firmly and inextricably fused.”
According to Islamic law, said Malik, Christians are viewed “at best as enemies or second-class citizens subsisting under Islamic protection, based on their Quranic designation, alongside Jews, as people of the book.”
But he said that supposed shielding imposes various stifling restrictions on them that, over time, has degraded Christian communities. The result, he said, is “little more than slow but relentless extinction, stretched over centuries.”
He said Islamic militants consider Christians “fifth column agents of western imperialism or Trojan horse-like implants of crusader aggression.
“A common refrain echoing in many Middle Eastern quarters is that the predatory West has been sucking dry the region’s resources and is constantly plotting to deplete its wealth, divide its peoples and sow chaos.”
Political correctness a smokescreen?
Malik said there obviously are cases of prejudice and hatred directed at Muslims, but contended that, for the most part, Islamophobia is “a bogus and politically driven accusation. It rests on the unsubstantiated blanket assertion that Muslims everywhere, but especially in the West, are being deliberately singled out for reasons of bigotry and targeted for abuse.”
“Political correctness has offered the misleading charge of Islamophobia as a convenient smokescreen, behind which real ruthless killers can choose to conceal themselves,” said Malik.
He said it’s an objective fact that the same profile— young male and female Sunni Muslims between the ages of 16 and 40 —emerges every time another terrorist outrage is perpetrated. “These young Sunnis are ISIS recruits — the cannon fodder the extremists indoctrinate, train and unleash to wage their war on all of us.”
In the main square of the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve, said Malick, “men of Arab and north African features belonging clearly to the latest wave of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, surrounded, attacked and raped a number of local girls.”
According to the BBC, 80 women reported sexual assaults and muggings by about 1,000 “aggressive” young men. Malik said they were Muslims.
He said Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker “chalked up the outrage as merely an expression of cultural diversity and then proceeded to blame the assault victims. This is political correctness gone utterly mad.
“How can Europeans be expected to fathom what Middle Eastern Christians have been enduring when they cannot even comprehend the identical phenomenon as it invades the very heart of their cities?”
Malik said pointing out what is objectively verifiable is not an expression of crazed, far-right hatred, irrational xenophobia or gratuitous fear-mongering.
“It is simple a sobering reality that a beguiled secular Europe…will continue to ignore at its great peril.”
Malik warned of the future possibility of the “Islamizing of Europe,” saying the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya once suggested sending millions of Muslims north into Europe to Islamize the continent.
Pope and Patriarch
After Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church met for the first time in February at Havana Airport in Cuba, said Malik, they issued a joint declaration that included several articles focusing on the suffering of Christians living in the Middle East.
One of those articles stated: “In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa, whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed.
“It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.”
Malik said the Christians of the Middle East need to self-reliantly depend “first and foremost on their abiding faith in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.”
Rather than being “scattered relics of a distant past,” Malik said those Christians “still carry the torch of the earliest Christian sparks that have ignited faith all over the world. They embody the future hope that a troubled world so desperately needs.”