John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Defending Religious Freedom in the Middle East

Posted on March 23, 2015
Tigris River and bridge in Mosul

"Tigris river Mosul" by Sgt. Michael Bracken - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It turns out, Saddam Hussein was actually pretty good for the Christians in Iraq.

That’s just one of the ironies of our efforts to dislodge him a decade ago.

Watching 60 Minutes last night and seeing the plight of Christians near Mosul is heartbreaking.

ISIS has little regard for Christianity and in their 13th century mindset, destroying history, especially Christian history, is part of their theology.

Since the failure of the Crusades, Christians in the Middle East have found themselves to be on the wrong side of the power equation.

In fact, the Syriac Christian Church based in Antioch has had its fair share of troubles throughout its long history.

If it wasn’t the Mongols who tried to stamp them out, it was the Jews.  If it wasn’t the Jews, it was the Ottoman Turks.  If not the Turks, than it was the Crusaders themselves.

It’s not easy to survive in this very tough neighborhood.

And it is getting harder, especially with ISIS.

Christians who were conquered by Muslims could pay a tax to continue to practice their religion through most of the history of Islam.

And that is still the case, even with ISIS, although the price of that tax has gone way up.

And it is illegal for Christians to proselytize in many Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, which purports to be an ally of ours.

Ironically, Iran does a better job of protecting its Christian community than the Saudis do.

During the Enlightenment, after centuries of war between the Catholics and Protestants, it became fashionable to live and let live when it came to Christianity.

Philosophers like Diderot, Espinoza, Descartes, Montesquieu, inspired political figures like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who then went about building a structure for the Western World that allowed a free market to develop for religious thought.

The Islamic world never had its philosophical version of the Enlightenment.

Certainly, political movements did suppress religious extremism in different parts of the world.

The Baath Party, for example, used brutal tactics to compel political uniformity, if not religious acceptance, in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and to a certain extent in Egypt.

But the idea of allowing everybody to practice their own religion any way they see fit has never been part of the Muslim make-up.

We can’t compel them to accept Enlightenment principles.

But we can do a much better job of defending Christians who have lived in the region for 2000 years.  And we can make abundantly clear that when groups like ISIS or governments like Saudi Arabia attack Christians who live within their midst, they attack all of us.

We should lay it all on the line.  If you persecute religious minorities within your country, especially Christians, if you destroy historic symbols, if you ethnically cleanse, if you commit genocide, you are picking a fight with the American people.

And you don’t want to do that.