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Washington, D.C. (July 24, 2014) – For the second time this week, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) took to the House floor to alert his colleagues – and the world – of the genocide he believes is taking place in Iraq.
“Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out,” Wolf said.
Wolf began today’s speech by reading the first two paragraphs of a Wall Street Journal editorial from earlier in the week: “Mr. Speaker: Imagine if a fundamentalist Christian sect captured the French city of Lyon and began a systematic purge of Muslims. Their mosques were destroyed, their crescents defaced, the Koran burned and then all Muslims forced to flee or face execution. Such an event would be unthinkable today, and if it did occur Pope Francis and all other Christian leaders would denounce it and support efforts by governments to stop it.
“Yet that is essentially what is happening in reverse now in Mosul, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham drives all signs of Christianity from the ancient city. Christians have lived in Mosul for nearly 2,000 years, but today they are reliving the Muslim religious wars of the Middle Ages.”
Wolf then read parts of an e-mail he received form someone on the ground in Iraq who painted a very dire situation: “All Mosul churches and monasteries are seized by ISIS. There are around 30. The cross has been removed from all of them. Many of them are burned, destroyed and looted. Many others are being used as ISIS centers. The religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs are destroyed in Mosul. This destruction is endangering very ancient sites, such as prophet Jonah’s tomb, which was broken last week, according to many reporters.”
Wolf then asked: “Where is the West? Where is the Obama Administration? Where is the Congress? The silence is deafening.”
Wolf ended his remarks by quoting William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian who, in making the case against slavery in 1789, told his colleagues, “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Below is the complete text of Wolf’s remarks:
“‘Imagine if a fundamentalist Christian sect captured the French city of Lyon and began a systematic purge of Muslims. Their mosques were destroyed, their crescents defaced, the Koran burned and then all Muslims forced to flee or face execution. Such an event would be unthinkable today, and if it did occur Pope Francis and all other Christian leaders would denounce it and support efforts by governments to stop it.
“Yet that is essentially what is happening in reverse now in Mosul, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham drives all signs of Christianity from the ancient city. Christians have lived in Mosul for nearly 2,000 years, but today they are reliving the Muslim religious wars of the Middle Ages.’
“These are not my words. They are the first two paragraphs of a Wall Street Journal editorial published earlier this week.
“Now I want to read parts of an e-mail I received yesterday from someone in the ground in Iraq: ‘All Mosul churches and monasteries are seized by ISIS. There are around 30. The cross has been removed from all of them. Many of them are burned, destroyed and looted. Many others are being used as ISIS centers. The religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs are destroyed in Mosul. This destruction is endangering very ancient sites, such as prophet Jonah’s tomb, which was broken last week, according to many reporters.’
“It has been widely reported that ISIS soldiers have painted ‘N’ on the doors of Christians to signify that they are ‘Nasara,’ the word for Christian. Shiite homes were painted with the letter ‘R’ for “Rawafidh,’ meaning rejectors or protestants.
“Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out.
“With the exception of Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country.
“I believe what is happening to the Christian community in Iraq is genocide. I also believe it is a crime against humanity.
“Where is the West? Where is the Obama Administration? Where is the Congress? The silence is deafening.
“The West, particularly the church, needs to speak out.
“The Obama Administration needs to make protecting this ancient community a priority. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry need to have the same courage as President Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell when they said genocide was taking place in Darfur.
“The Congress needs to hold this administration accountable for its failure to act.
“The United Nations has a role, too. It should immediately initiate proceedings in the International Criminal Court against ISIS for crimes against humanity.
“I will close today by reading the final two paragraphs of The Wall Street Journal editorial I began my statement with: ‘Today’s religious extremism is almost entirely Islamic. While ISIS’s purge may be the most brutal, Islamists in Egypt have driven thousands of Coptic Christians from homes they’ve occupied for centuries. The same is true across the Muslim parts of Africa. This does not mean that all Muslims are extremists, but it does mean that all Muslims have an obligation to denounce and resist the extremists who murder or subjugate in the name of Allah. Too few imams living in the tolerant West will speak up against it.
“As for the post-Christian West, most elites may now be nonbelievers. But a culture that fails to protect believers may eventually find that it lacks the self-belief to protect itself.’
“As William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian and abolitionist, famously told his colleagues, ‘Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.’”
Thank you, Rep. Wolf for being a VOICE!
Washington, D.C. (July 22, 2014) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), long regarded as one of the leading human rights champions in Congress, today said genocide is taking place in Iraq.
Speaking on the House floor, Wolf said the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is systematically targeting Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq for extinction.
For months, Wolf has been trying shine a bright light on what has been taking place in Iraq, as thousands of religious minorities have been forced to flee the lands they have inhabited for more than 2,000 years. Not until ISIS last Thursday told the few remaining Christians in Mosul to leave or be killed did the world focus on what has been unfolding.
Below is the complete text of Wolf’s remarks:
“Mr. Speaker, the international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.
“It says ‘genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’
“I believe what is happening to the Christian community in Iraq is genocide. I also believe it is a crime against humanity.
“Last Thursday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – more commonly referred to as ISIS – gave the few remaining Christians in Mosul until Saturday to leave or be killed.
“This from yesterday New York Times: ‘Some went on foot, their car having been confiscated; others rode bicycles or motor scooters; few were able to take anything of value, as militants seized their money and jewelry. Some – just a few, and because they were not healthy enough to flee – submitted to the demands that they convert to Islam to avoid being killed.’
“ISIS is systematically targeting Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq for extinction.
“I want to submit for the Record the complete article from The New York Times and an editorial from today’s Wall Street Journal for history to see what is happening.
“With the exception of Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country. The patriarch Abraham came from a city in Iraq called Ur. Isaac’s bride, Rebekah, came from northwest Iraq. Jacob spent 20 years in Iraq, and his sons (the 12 tribes of Israel) were born in northwest Iraq. A remarkable spiritual revival as told in the book of Jonah occurred in Nineveh. The events of the book of Esther took place in Iraq, as did the account of Daniel in the Lion’s Den
“Monday’s New York Times piece also quotes a Muslim woman at a prayer service at St. George Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday whispering to a Christian woman sitting in the pew next to her: ‘You are the true original people here, we are so sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.’
“On June 16, for the first time in 1,600 years, there was no Mass in Mosul.
“Pope Francis on Sunday expressed concern about what has unfolded in Mosul and other parts of the Middle East, noting that these communities, since the beginning of Christianity, have ‘co-existed there alongside their fellow citizens, making a significant contribution to the good of society. Today they are persecuted. Our brothers are persecuted, they are cast out, they are forced to leave their homes without having the chance to take anything with them.’
“The United Nations released a statement attributed to Ban Ki-moon that, in part, said: ‘The Secretary-General reiterates that any systematic attack on the civilian population or segments of the civilian population, because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable.’
“Where is the Obama Administration?
“In June, 55 Members of Congress – Republican and Democrats – urged the Obama Administration to actively engage with the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to prioritize additional security support for especially vulnerable populations, notably Iraq’s ancient Christian community and provide emergency humanitarian assistance to those affected communities.
“I want to read the last line from our letter:
‘Absent immediate action, we will most certainly witness the annihilation of an ancient faith community from the lands they’ve inhabited for centuries.’
“It is happening. They are almost all gone – just as we predicted.
“The Obama Administration has to make protecting this ancient community a priority.
“It needs to encourage the Kurds to do what they can protect those fleeing ISIS and provide safe refuge.
“It needs to ensure that of the resources going to the region, a portion be guaranteed to help the Christian community.
“It needs to have the same courage as President Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell when they said genocide was taking place in Darfur.
“The United Nations has a role, too. It should immediately initiate proceedings in the International Criminal Court against ISIS for crimes against humanity.
“The time to act is now.”
Washington, D.C. (July 8, 2014) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today released the following statement after the House approved by voice vote a five-year reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which he helped establish in 1998 as part of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act.
“The broad support for this bill in the House is fitting for an issue so central to America’s own grand experiment in self-governance: the protection of religious freedom, which is often referred to as America’s ‘first freedom.’
“Sadly, one need only pick up the newspaper today to see how religious freedom is under assault globally.
“The terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not only gaining territory in Iraq but before our eyes is threatening the very existence of ancient faith communities in the region, including the centuries old Christian community. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled Mosul and the surrounding region in what The Christian Science Monitor recently characterized as a ‘cataclysmic restructuring of an area that was home to some of the earliest Christians.’
“In addition to the crisis in Iraq, religious minorities are marginalized and imperiled in Egypt and Syria.
“The government of Vietnam severely restricts religious activities of all faiths, as does the government of China; and religious minorities such as the Ahmadiyya Muslims face governmental and social harassment in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.
“These persecuted individuals and communities look to the United States, above all others, to champion to their cause and to raise their plight with repressive governments.
“In May, I introduced H.R. 4653, the bipartisan legislation that reauthorizes USCIRF for five years. First created in 1998 through the International Religious Freedom Act, USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government commission that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad, reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations based on international standards and makes policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of State and Congress.
“Since its inception, USCIRF has been an invaluable watchdog for global religious freedom conditions. USCIRF has been the voice of the imprisoned Baha’i leader languishing unjustly behind bars. USCIRF has been the voice of the fearful Iraqi nun uncertain if there is a future for her in the land of her birth. USCIRF has been the voice of the Buddhist monk who has watched with horror as more than 130 of his fellow Tibetans have set themselves aflame in desperation at the abuses they’ve suffered at the hands of the Chinese government.
“In short, USCIRF has been, and with passage of this legislation will continue to be, the voice of marginalized, oppressed and persecuted people who dare to worship according to the dictates of their conscience.
“The commission can be relied upon to consistently give the unvarnished truth about the true state of religious freedom in countries around the globe, whether they are strategic allies or adversaries. USCIRF is unhindered by the bureaucratic morass that so often stymies the State Department during Republican and Democratic administrations alike.
“Given the state of religious freedom abroad today, the sobering reality is that the commission’s voice is as needed as it has ever been.”
Congressman Frank Wolf: Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) Declined To Sign Pledge To Stand Up For Persecuted
“I rise today as a follower of Jesus and lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church USA who was deeply grieved by what transpired at last week’s gathering of the PCUSA’s General Assembly. I feel increasingly alienated from this rich faith tradition, which includes John Witherspoon, the only active clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, andsubmit for the Record a statement of protest by the Presbyterian Lay Committee Board of Directors which expresses a similar sentiment.
“I will begin with marriage. After several years of internal discussion and debate the assembly voted overwhelmingly to take a position which runs counter to the counsel of Scripture, which defines marriage as divinely inspired joining of one man and one woman.
“It has long been clear that our culture is in the throes of a seismic shift on this issue. While the current marriage debate has centered around the notion of same-sex unions, in reality there has been a decades’ long assault on marriage, such that what was once almost universally recognized as a God-ordained and created institution, the fundamental building block of any society and the nexus of procreation and child-rearing, has now been called into question both in the larger culture and increasingly in the legal framework which governs this land.
“But perhaps most troubling is that increasingly this is happening within the church itself, which has historically served a bulwark against the cultural whims of the day.
“In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together let man not separate.”
“This passage, and others like it, remind me of Reverend Billy Graham’s comment in the lead-up to the 2012 North Carolina ballot initiative regarding marriage, when he remarked, ‘The Bible is clear – God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.’
“In addition to marriage, I was also troubled by the PCUSA’s action on Israel. I submit for the Record a Wall Street Journal piece which ran yesterday regarding the PCUSA’s vote to divest the denomination’s stock from three American companies that do business with Israel in the West Bank citing their “involvement in the occupation and the violation of human rights in the region.
“The PCUSA’s deeply misguided decision comes against a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and even here in the United States. I submit for the Record a June 20 Washington Post piece highlighting the problem which noted that “Jewish leaders here are now warning of a recent and fundamental shift tied to a spurt of homegrown anti-Semitism.”
“The denomination’s action on Israel stands in stark contrast to its inaction on the persecuted church in the region. The PCUSA expressly declined to sign a recently issued “Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action” which more than 200 religious leaders from across the country signed on to.
“These representatives of the American church came together across ecumenical lines to pledge to do more to help beleaguered minority faith communities, foremost among them the ancient Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The PCUSA privately expressed concerns that this action would be perceived as an “anti-Muslim” statement.
“The Pledge itself was carefully crafted with input from faith leaders here in the United States and throughout the region and conveyed that the time had come for the church in the West to “pray and speak with greater urgency about this human rights crisis.” With the PCUSA’s decision not to associate itself with this urgent call to action, I find myself once again out of step with my denomination in profound ways.
“I believe that many of the giants of this tradition: among them Rev. Peter Marshall of New York Ave., Presbyterian Church, where President Lincoln worshipped, and a former Senate Chaplain; Rev. Dick Halverson, senior pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church and also a Senate Chaplain; Rev. Louis Evans, pastor for 18 years of National Presbyterian Church; and Rev. James Boice, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, would find it difficult to recognize the PCUSA church today.”
Washington, D.C. (May 9, 2014) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today introduced legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which he helped establish in 1998 as the author of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The commission was last reauthorized in September 2011.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government advisory body charged with monitoring the status of the freedom of religion or belief abroad and providing policy recommendations to the president, Secretary of State and Congress.
“Religious freedom is America’s first freedom, and a vitally important human right enshrined in international law,” Wolf said. “It should be a bedrock of U.S. foreign policy. Too often that is not the case.”
“The Commission plays an invaluable role in giving an unvarnished picture of religious freedom violations the world over,” Wolf continued. “It is well respected on both sides of the aisle for its thoughtful analysis and policy recommendations, and its commissioners are regularly called upon to provide expert testimony at congressional hearings and briefings. Simply put, the commission’s research informs the work of many in foreign policy-making circles.”
As recent as April 30, 2014, the USCIRF released its annual report which documented religious freedom violations in 33 countries and made a number of policy recommendations, including that 16 countries and recommended that the State Department add eight more nations to its list of “countries of particular concern,” defined under law as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. USCIRF also recommended that the following eight countries be re-designated as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. for particularly severe violation of religious freedom. The report also examines U.S. international religious freedom policy and recommends way to strengthen U.S. engagement and promotion of religious freedom.
Wolf said he looked forward to swift passage of this critical legislation.
Representative Wolf deeply cares and has worked diligently to protect the human right, Freedom of Worship for all people in the world.
He has long believed that the United States has an obligation to speak out for religious freedom, often referred to as the “first freedom.” Recognizing that religious freedom was often sidelined in our bilateral relations and diplomatic engagement with other countries, in 1998, he authored the International Religious Freedom Act, which created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and established the International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department headed by an ambassador-at-large. This was a critical first step in integrating religious freedom into our broader foreign policy, but he says “Much remains to be done.”
“Sadly, religious freedom advocacy has never been more needed. A landmark report on religious freedom, released by the Pew Forum in 2009, found that “nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities. Pew has done subsequent studies on the issue and it’s 2014 report found that incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47% of countries in 2012, up from 38% in 2011 and 24% in the baseline year of the study.”
“If the international community fails to speak out and advocate for those whose basic human rights are being trampled, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance are bleak.”
In January 2013 I reintroduced bipartisan legislation to create a special envoy within the State Department to advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.
In countries like Iraq and Egypt, ancient Christian communities are being driven from the lands they have inhabited for centuries. In Iran, Baha’is are imprisoned and in some cases executed simply because of their faith. In Pakistan, Ahmadi graves are desecrated. In Afghanistan, a country where America has sacrificed greatly in both blood and treasure, the most basic right to freedom of religion or belief is not recognized in the constitution. This is but a snap shot of the grave challenges facing these communities.
In January 2011 following a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing during which sobering testimony [was heard] about the challenges facing religious minorities in Iraq and Egypt, Wolf introduced the special envoy, bill – along with Democrat Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who is of Armenian and Assyrian heritage. The hearing predated the so-called “Arab Spring.” But arguably, the dramatic changes in the region have only made these communities more vulnerable.
Over 20 special envoy posts exist to protect a range of groups and interests, but none is dedicated to the plight of Middle East religious minorities.
On September 18, 2013 the House again overwhelmingly passed the Special Envoy vote by a vote of 402-22, but it has languished in the Senate.
Wolf is actively working to press for swift Senate action. Each day that passes without a dedicated special envoy to advocate for these besieged religious communities, America’s first freedom, religious freedom, is under assault around the globe.
“I renewed my efforts in the 113th Congress to press for passage of this important legislation and to mobilize faith leaders in the West to advocate for these imperiled communities. In January I sent a letter to more than 300 Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox leaders in the West, calling for them to use their influence to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Church around the globe, specifically in the Middle East.”
On Wednesday, the Christian leaders joined forces to call for an end to the silence over persecuted Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Rep. Wolf has regularly met with beleaguered Christians from this part of the world. He said, “Their stories are eerily similar: believers kidnapped for ransom; churches–some full of worshipers–attacked; clergy targeted for killing. In the face of this violence, Christians are leaving in droves.”
In countries where Christians must deal with harsh persecution, many are silenced by fear and abuse. The oppressors wish to hide the atrocities from the international community. Those standing up for religious rights and revealing the abuse are threatened to be silent or face severe persecution—death threats, pressured to convert to Islam, beaten, tortured, shot at and even lose their lives. It is not uncommon for them to be fired from their jobs when the employer is pressured to do so by the persecutors. And to further strike fear, their families likely experience all of the above.
The growing radicalism in these countries has forced many religious minorities to live in fear. In Pakistan, where false blasphemy charges have escalated and are abused, Christians asks us, “What has happened to humanity and what have we done to deserve such treatment?” (John 15:18, John 15:20) Simply being in disagreement with the prophet of Islam can wrongfully be proclaimed as blasphemy, denying their freedom of worship. As seen in recent cases, subjecting them to possible death sentences has also intensified. Too often and now more frequently, Pakistani citizens trying to make a difference by promoting peace and religious equality are forced to flee the country to spare their lives and that of their families. While Pakistan loses one more of the brave few willing to stand up and be a voice for Christian rights and that of other religious minorities.
In the Bible there is much written about the oppressed and persecuted. Jesus had more to say about the poor than any other group of people. He had great concern for this critical issue and taught us that we should too. As American Christians, if we are earnest about our faith, then we should be compelled to aid the oppressed in the world. Being blessed by God living in a nation of great freedom, should we not use this gift and ability to be a voice for those who don’t?
VOP and persecuted Christians appreciate the work of Rep. Wolf. May the Lord bless him in his efforts.
Engage and inform others on the topic of Christian persecution. And get them praying for our suffering brethren!
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 in the HVC Studio A, The Capitol.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) will call on President Obama to send President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush to South Sudan to help resolve the ongoing crisis, which is eerily reminiscent of the genocide that started to unfold in Rwanda 20 years ago this month.
Wolf, who has travelled six times to Sudan and South Sudan and has long been recognized in Congress for his work in this region, has been in contact with an expert who was in South Sudan in recent days and witnessed the atrocities taking place. He has shared graphic photos of mass killings, some which Wolf will show at the press conference.
“President Obama must do more to resolve this crisis,” Wolf said. “America helped give birth to South Sudan. We have a moral obligation to act. The killing must stop. Both sides are at fault and by immediately dispatching President Clinton and President Bush to help negotiate a halt to these killings, we would unequivocally convey to the long-suffering people of that nation that this is a U.S. foreign policy priority.”
“If President Obama does not do something he will have to go to South Sudan and apologize for what happened like President Clinton did in Rwanda in March of 1998,” Wolf continued. “President Clinton has called what happened in Rwanda ‘his personal failure.’ If nothing is done to stop the senseless killing in South Sudan, it will be on President Obama’s conscience.”
Wolf for months has been pushing the Obama Administration to do more. In December, he publically called on Secretary of State Kerry to enlist the help of President Bush and the Bush Presidential Center to engage the leaders of South Sudan to bring an end to the crisis, highlighting the fact that intensive diplomacy during the Bush Administration in negotiating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) resulted in lasting relationships between the Bush team and the current leadership of South Sudan.
“I have not only read about the massacres but have heard directly from a reliable source on the ground,” Wolf said. “I have heard of civilians, including women and children, indiscriminately targeted and killed; I learned of houses of worship turned from places of sanctuary to mass graves; I have been told of ethnic divisions that now run so deep they could take a generation to heal. I have to believe cables are being sent to Washington that tell this same story. People who are in a position to help know what is happening. It is time to do something, or this is going to be Rwanda all over again.
Mar 27, 2014
In a pointed letter to the president, Wolf wrote that if the Obama Administration can signal its intention to appoint a special envoy to the Arctic region it should be able to appoint a special envoy for religious minorities. The House has twice passed Wolf’s legislation to create an envoy for religious minorities but the measure has stalled in the Senate, partly because of opposition from the Obama Administration.
“Your administration could act today, consistent with the sentiments you expressed following your meeting with the Pope, in announcing the creation of a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia and then you could immediately begin consulting with the affected communities, including the growing diaspora communities here in the U.S., about a high profile person best suited to take on this monumental task,” Wolf wrote. “I urge you to put your words into action, lest inaction be perceived as indifference.”
Below is the complete text of Wolf’s letter:
The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The White House
Washington DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I read with great interest your public remarks today regarding your meeting with His Holiness, Pope Francis, specifically your comment that you spent a “lot of time talking about what’s happening in Syria, what’s happening in Lebanon, and the potential persecution of Christians,” and “reaffirmed that it is central to U.S. foreign policy that we protect the interests of religious minorities around the world.”
While I agree protecting religious minorities around the world SHOULD be central to U.S. foreign policy, this has sadly not rung true in recent years. And I think most would agree that there is not simply potential persecution of Christians, and I would add other vulnerable religious minorities, rather there is a very real threat posed to these ancient faith communities throughout the region as evidenced by the discrimination, violence and even death that is a daily reality.
More than three years ago I introduced relatively modest bipartisan legislation that has twice overwhelmingly passed in the House only to languish in the Senate. The bill would create a special envoy within the U.S. State Department, charged with advocating for vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia, precisely the very issue you spoke to today. It has been widely embraced by an array of faith-based organizations, including but not limited to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.
Consider the following: Coptic Christians, once numbering roughly 8 -10 million, are leaving in droves in the face of increased repression, persecution and violence in Egypt. Similarly, Iraq’s Christian population has plummeted. Churches have been targeted, believers kidnapped for ransom and families threatened with violence if they stay. Canon Andrew White, famously dubbed the “Vicar of Baghdad” as he oversees the only Anglican Church in Iraq, was quoted as saying that Christians, “are frightened even to walk to church because they might come under attack. All the churches are targets… We used to have 1.5 million Christians, now we have probably only 200,000 left… There are more Iraqi Christians in Chicago than there are here.”
And of course 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 time and again in my meetings with Syrian Christians they remark that they fear the fate that befell their brethren in Iraq, where, as already noted, hundreds of thousands have fled after being targeted by rival Islamist groups. Notably, the Christians of the Syrian village of Raqqa now must endure the additional injustice of dhimmitude whereby those who remain face death, forced conversion or an exacting set of demands which includes bans on renovating and rebuilding churches, a prohibition on the public exercise of their faith and much more.
Christians are not alone. In Iran, the so-called “Baha’i Seven” languish unjustly in prison. In Pakistan, violence against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is often met with impunity and basic rights, including the ability to vote, are denied. And, Anti-Semitism throughout the region is rampant.
The scope of religious persecution around the world, but especially in the Middle East is gravely concerning, and ought to alarm any person of conscience. I do not pretend to think that a special envoy, as envisioned by the legislation I authored, would single-handedly solve the problem, for it is vast. But I can say with certainty that it would provide much-needed hope and comfort to communities desperate to know that the United States stands with them.
At various points, your State Department has opposed Senate passage of this bill. While I would welcome legislative action on the measure, it is by no means necessary for the creation of a special envoy. In fact, just last month, Secretary of State Kerry announced his intention to name a special representative or envoy to the Arctic region. Your administration could act today, consistent with the sentiments you expressed following your meeting with the Pope, in announcing the creation of a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia and then you could immediately begin consulting with the affected communities, including the growing diaspora communities here in the U.S., about a high profile person best suited to take on this monumental task.
I urge you to put your words into action, lest inaction be perceived as indifference.
Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress
To borrow from the musical group The Kinks, you know “it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world” when Russian president Vladimir Putin becomes the leading voice for stopping the violent persecutions against Christians while the president of the United States stands silent.
Speaking at a meeting with Orthodox Christian leaders in Moscow last week, according to Life Site News, Putin said he noted “with alarm” that “in many of the world’s regions… inter-confessional tensions are mounting, and the rights of religious minorities are infringed, including Christians and Orthodox Christians.”
In emphasizing the Middle East and North Africa, Putin said:
Christians in Syria have suffered greatly amid a deadly civil war there, as have Coptic Christians in Egypt while under Muslim Brotherhood rule. There has also been a rapid decline of Iraq’s Christian population since 2003. All of which has largely been ignored by the Obama administration.
Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom and a Hudson Institute Fellow, said during an appearance at CPAC in March that “religious persecution is the gravest human rights crisis of our day,” as reported by Breitbart News.
”I have every expectation this problem will become worse between now and the end of the Obama administration,” she said.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a co-chairman of the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, has been critical of the U.S. government’s “anemic and at times outright baffling” response to the treatment of Christians in the Mideast, according to the National Catholic Register.
Yes, we may have passed through the looking glass if Christians must look to Russia for protection. A mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, indeed.