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The US Must Do More for Minority Faiths Facing Genocide Abroad
A Iraqi Christian boy lights candles inside a shrine in the grounds of Mazar Mar Eillia (Mar Elia) Catholic Church, on December 12, 2014 in Erbil, Iraq. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The US Must Do More for Minority Faiths Facing Genocide Abroad

Nina Shea

The fact that President Trump’s executive order allows the government to prioritize individual claims of religious-based persecution from religious minorities—whether Christian, Yazidi, Jew, Muslim, Bahá’í, Buddhist, etc.—should be welcome news to every Christian and everyone concerned with human rights and religious freedom.

ISIS has waged genocide against Christians and other minorities for nearly three years. The terror group carried out its slogan, “We will break your crosses and enslave your women,” with literal precision against the ancient Christian community of several Middle Eastern countries. The Yazidis, another ancient religion, saw ISIS abduct more than 3,000 of its women and girls for sexual enslavement, and mass graves of their men are now being unearthed.

In March 2016, the US government officially designated ISIS as responsible for genocide against various religious minorities, but adopted no new policies to help them. The State Department argued it was already prioritizing the “vulnerable minorities.” But in several aspects, the Christians were in reality put at the back of the line.

Of the 12,587 Syrian refugees admitted under the ramped-up refugee program during the last fiscal year, a mere 0.5 percent were Christians, equivalent to about a dozen families. Yet, by State Department estimates, Christians accounted for up to 10 percent of Syria’s population. The marginalization against Christians extends to key UN programs for refugee camps, humanitarian aid, and resources to reconstruct their destroyed towns and villages.

Trump’s prioritization is critically needed as religious persecution and terror targeting religious minorities spreads in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa—and especially in Syria and Iraq.

Some argue the religious minority provision is unworkable; that the vetting process can’t identify Christians. But in Iraq and Syria, this should not be a problem. Many Christians speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus of Nazareth. Most belong to hierarchical churches with local bishops and priests or small evangelical churches that can vouch for them.

Much of the uproar surrounding the order is based on the misconception that it prioritizes Christians per se and functions as a “Muslim ban.” Instead, priority is given to persecuted individuals from religious minorities. Rohingya Muslims from Burma, Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan, Iraqi Yazidis, Iranian Bahá’ís, and Vietnamese independent Buddhists could all qualify. Furthermore, similar efforts to prioritize minorities have not precluded the country from accepting compelling cases from majority groups.

Temporary suspensions of entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries while security vetting is reviewed over three months hardly constitutes a ban on Muslims. Those countries were taken from a 2016 list drawn up by the Obama administration—not because they were Muslim, but because they were “countries of concern” for terrorist travel prevention. These suspensions seem justifiable given last year’s CIA warning that ISIS threatens to infiltrate refugees to attack the West. Temporary suspensions from some of these countries occurred under Obama with little protest.

This is not to say that there should be no concern or criticism over Trump’s policy. The Christian versus Muslim mischaracterizations could feed terrorist propaganda. The hasty application of the suspensions without notice, its application to green card and dual passport holders (a provision now reportedly rescinded), and the indefinite suspension of Syrian refugees are unfair and should be changed.

But giving priority to persecuted religious minorities—minorities of any religious background—is not an injustice. Rather, it will serve justice, by upholding our highest ideals of offering refuge to genocide survivors and others among the world’s most vulnerable.

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