Congressman Frank Wolf: More Must Be Done To Protect Christians In Syria -
Washington, D.C. (March 5, 2014) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) on the House floor today delivered the following remarks imploring the Obama Administration to do more to protect Christians in Syria:
“Much ink has been spilt regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments this weekend characterizing Vladimir Putin’s outrageous incursion into Ukraine as a ‘19th century act in the 21st century…’ But if we are looking through the lens of history, it is also worth noting what a small community of Syrian Christians has been forced to endure.
“Writing in National Review Online last week, stalwart religious freedom advocate, Nina Shea, authored a piece headlined, Syrian Jihadists Are Forcing Christians to Become Dhimmis Under Seventh-Century Rules. She notes: ‘The religious persecution in Syria deepened this week, as evidenced by a written ultimatum purportedly distributed by the rebel jihadist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to Christians in the northern provincial capital of Raqqa. Rejecting conversion to Islam or death, some 20 Christian leaders of that city held firm in their faith and submitted to the Islamists’ demands to live by as dhimmis.’
“Shea continued, explaining the implications of this status ‘[u]nder this arrangement, in exchange for their lives and the ability to worship as Christians, they must abide by purported seventh-century rules of the Caliph Umar. According to the Raqqa ultimatum, these include bans on renovating and rebuilding churches and monasteries, many of which need repair because they have been shelled and blown up over the past three years, and bans against the public display of crosses and Christian symbols and the ringing of bells. They are forbidden from reading scripture indoors loud enough for Muslims outside to hear, and the practice of their faith must be confined within the walls of their remaining churches, not exercised publicly (at, for example, funeral or wedding processions).’
“Many have remarked that Raqqa was once one of Syria’s most liberal cities. Its Christian community numbered about 3,000 before the conflict. They have since been devastated by violence and migration. Their exact number today is unknown.
“This month marks the anniversary of the uprising which eventually spiraled into the war and violence which has terrorized Syria for three years now. Muslims and Christians alike have experienced horrific violence. But as Shea notes, ‘[t]he Christians who remain in Raqqa must now bear the additional suffering of dhimmitude.’
“Their plight, while more stark given the official nature of their subjugation, parallels in many ways that of other besieged religious minorities, specifically Christians throughout the broader Middle East. This latest outrage finally garnered a statement from the Department of State spokesperson.
“But a statement provides little solace to a people facing death, forced conversion, or in the case of these Christian leaders who refused to abandon their faith, an exacting toll to abide by the dictates of their conscience.
“Such an outrage demands a response from policymakers and faith leaders alike. I have joined with Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and others in sending a letter to Secretary Kerry urging that the Department of State cooperate with a Syria Study Group to be facilitated by the Washington D.C.- based Atlantic Council. The group would be charged with producing a report, as quickly as possible, that would help the administration and Congress identify and implement ways for bringing this crisis to a close in a manner fully consistent with the interests and the political transition objectives of the United States.
“Surely the protection of ancient faith communities like Syria’s Christians community is one such interest.
“Meanwhile, I believe it is critical for the faith community in the West, specifically the church in America, to find its voice on behalf of our marginalized and persecuted brothers and sisters abroad, be they in Syria, Egypt or Iraq.
“I meet regularly with representatives of these groups. They are desperate for help, or at the very least solidarity, and cannot understand the seeming lack of urgency by their brethren here in America.
“Frankly, nor can I.”