Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Blog

James Zogby knows all too well the political and humanitarian perils that face the Middle East’s Christian population. In addition to his work at the Institute, he has made advocating for religious minorities and bridging gaps between members of different faiths his life’s work. In recognition of this, President Obama appointed him to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) earlier this month. Zogby’s work to raise awareness about the plight of the Middle East’s Christian population came to a critical juncture this year with continued sectarian violence in Iraq, increased attention to Syria’s bloody civil war, and Egypt’s political turmoil following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. But even with heightened news coverage and internal conflict disproportionately bearing down on Christians in these three countries, Americans by and large have remained ignorant or indifferent to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Why? Because, as Zogby argues, Americans are still depressingly unaware that there are actually Christians in the Middle East. “Most Americans have so little knowledge of the Arab World, its history and people that they are unaware that these Christian communities even exist,” he wrote in a recent column entitled “Invisible Victims.” Never mind that Christianity began in the Middle East.

When Arab Christians are part of political discourse here in the United States, they are too often used as political cudgels. In “Invisible Victims” Zogby notes, “On occasion some right-wing ideologues have selectively embraced the plight of one Christian community only to use it as a partisan club with which to attack a Democratic administration or as part of their ongoing efforts to demonize Islam.” The oversimplification or misdirection of the plight of Arab Christians is not uncommon. Beyond Syria, Iraq and Egypt where internal conflict and sectarian violence often disproportionately affect Christian minorities, a crippling Israeli occupation and continued settlement expansion is contributing to a diminishing Christian population in places like Bethlehem. These ancient communities are alive and breathing, but they are being strangled by harsh realities of an uncertain region, and Zogby argues their plight deserves more attention from the media and from the American people. The first step is education. Lesson number one: Arab Christians do exist.

In addition to serving on the U.S. commission on International Religious Freedom, Zogby occupies leadership roles for a number of interfaith organizations including, Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, the Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign, and the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East.

Below is an excerpt and link to the full version of Zogby’s recent column “Invisible Victims”:

For decades now, Christians have been the "invisible or ignored victims" of conflicts in the Middle East. At best, the US has paid scant attention as once thriving communities of indigenous Christians in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt have been attacked, threatened, or forced to endure indignity and hardship.

There are many reasons for this lack of attention to the situation of Arab Christians, with one principal factor being ignorance. Most Americans have so little knowledge of the Arab World, its history and people that they are unaware that these Christian communities even exist. This must be remedied, since without an understanding of the role played by Christians in the Arab societies of the Middle East, there can be no reasoned discussion about the past, present, and future of this region.

One striking example of this ignorance comes to mind. I once hosted a press breakfast in Washington for a visiting Palestinian priest from the Galilee. Since I had invited only reporters who covered religion issues, I hoped for an informed and thoughtful exchange.

Read the article in full


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