WARREN — The attacks surfacing against Christians worldwide particularly in parts of the Arab World are on the rise, according to concerns raised at the American Middle East Christians Congress conference Sep. 28 at the St. Sharbel Church here.
|Dr. Ramsy Dass, M.D., President of the American Middle East Christians Congress|
Speaking Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s Minister of Energy and Water who’s a Christian said in recent years the population of Christians has diminished drastically in parts of the world and continues to as more face persecution and exile. “This is not the result of a bad economy, earthquake or a drought, no…rather this is the result of the policies being implemented in our region, with the consent of the Western world,” Bassil said.
Dr. Ramsey Dass, M.D., President of the AMECC says in recent months Coptic Christians have left Egypt in the wake of violence against them, and the future of Christians in Arab countries where the popular Arab Spring uprisings have occurred such as Syria is uncertain. “There is a Christian exodus taking place,” Dr. Dass said.
Since the start of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the country’s Christian population has decreased by more than half. To date there’s an estimated 400,000 Christians in Iraq, as opposed to the more than one million before the start of the war.
“They think Christians are an easy target. They kill them, they rape them. They destroy their churches,” Dr. Dass said. He plans on starting a political action committee to address the concerns of Middle Eastern Christians in the United States. There are an estimated six million of them in the country according to the AMECC. Dr. Dass says the group will be similar to the Council on American Islamic Relations, which has been a powerful force for Muslim Americans nationwide, by making their voices heard among politicians. “The so called Arab Spring has proven to be no more then a cold stormy winter where dictatorship has been replaced by hard line Islamic governments,” Bassil said.
He indicated that movements started by Al-Qaeda that threaten the existence of Christians have “boosted” throughout the Middle East, and Christians in the region are dumbfounded by the U.S. support for extremist movements.
“If the rise of those movements is not stopped in the Middle East it will reach Europe in no time and the shores of America, and the U.S. will have to deal with it at home,” he said.
|Father Mark Ibrahim, a member of the Egyptian Coptic Christian community. Coptic Christians have also been the subject of persecution, and forced to flee their homelands. PHOTOS: Nafeh AbuNab|
Bassil says recent polls suggest more than 50 percent of U.S. citizens are concerned about the economy while 26 percent are worried about terrorism. “Those numbers could change…if the waves of hatred reach your shores,” he said.
He says Arabs share the same values of freedom and human rights as Americans and object to the policies that are threatening their existence. He said it was once predicted that when the Middle East has no Christians “evil will prevail in the world and the universe will fall in an unprecedented massacre.”
Dr. Dass outlined some of the challenges facing Christians in Arab countries including governments that aren’t willing to admit there isn’t adequate representation of Christians in political positions, or that minorities are being attacked because of their religious affiliation.
Dr. Dass says Christians in the Arab World should not succumb to the pressures of intimidation and threats that push them out of their homelands.
He says one of Iraq’s leading bishops was killed because he refused to leave. Dr. Dass believes Christians shouldn’t flee their homelands despite the threats being cast on their rights or lives.
During a recent trip to Lebanon Dass met with Patriarch Mar Bechara Peter Rai, who told him to pass along the message of communion, love and friendship among people of different faiths.
Several Muslim Americans attended the conference to support the cause. Public officials including Warren Mayor James Fouts, Republican Congressman Kerry Bentivolio of the 11th Congressional District and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard also addressed the crowd.
Additional speakers included Habib Afram, President of the Syriac League in Lebanon and Secretary General of the Federation of Christian Associations in Lebanon, and Nahida Gordon, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor at Case Western University and Moderator of the National Middle East Eastern Presbyterian Caucus of the Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Dass says Middle Eastern Christians are powerful enough to have their voices heard through the democratic process by voting, and removing elected officials who do not address their concerns. As for elected officials who don’t cater to the needs of the community Dass said, “We will remember them come November.”
Christians around the world must protect each other, something Dr. Dass says former President George W. Bush failed to do when he invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Dr. Dass said when Bush invaded Iraq he didn’t pay attention to what was happening to Christians although he identifies as one. “A Christian should know you should take care of your brothers and sisters, and not just Christians, all of humanity,” he said.
Dr. Dass read a letter sent to the AMECC by the Pope, who he sent a letter to regarding the conference.
When Dr. Dass visited the Middle East and met with different organizations he was encouraged not to forget his homeland and roots, despite having established a new life in America. “They said ‘you have forgotten about your brothers and sisters,’ I told them I would take the message back,” he said.
The Board of Directors of the AMECC honored people with six awards including the Mar Bechara Peter Rai Award for a person or organization that promotes communion and love in the Middle East; The Late Pope Shenouda III Award for a person or organization that promotes a better understanding of Christianity or Christians in the Middle East; Bishop Louis Sako Award for a person or organization that promotes international understanding of Middle East Christians, their heritage aspirations and survival; Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho Award for bravery and exemplary leadership and President’s Awards for people who have contributed to the function and to the community at large.
Dr. Dass warned that something must be done immediately to stop atrocities against Christians before their existence becomes history in parts of the world such as Bethlehem. “Now one day, when you’re going to go see the holy land in Bethlehem, these places of worship are going to be museums, and tourist guides will not be from your faith or your community,” he said.
A portion of the proceeds from the event went to orphanages in the Middle East. To donate to the congress visit www.middleeastchristian.org or call 248-546-9100.