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What to Do about Anti-Christian Violence in the Middle East

Nina Shea

Islamists exploded a bomb that killed 21 Coptic Christians and injured scores of others as they left a crowded New Years Mass at an Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt, thus continuing their practice of terrorizing this long-oppressed Middle Eastern religious group. This was hardly unforeseeable: Last holiday season, an Islamist attack killed six Copts celebrating Orthodox Christmas at a church in the Egyptian village of Nag Hamadi, and incendiary accusations and denunciations from various Islamist quarters against the Copts have been mounting since then. The Copts have begun to stage angry and desperate protests against Cairos failure to provide them with meaningful protection.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, Islamist militants continue the killing spree that includes last Octobers attack on a Baghdad Catholic church, which killed 58 Sunday worshipers, including two priests. According to news reports, several people have been killed and dozens of others injured since then in a spate of Islamist militant attacks targeting Christian neighborhoods across Baghdad. One of the survivors of that bombing, a Catholic woman who lived in central Baghdad, was shot in the head while she slept today.

The Islamists behind these attacks who have also mercilessly killed and maimed Muslims they do not agree with, especially those with more moderate views hope to eradicate the Christian presence, which they view as impure. Egypt and Iraq are the last two of three remaining large Christian centers in the Muslim Middle East (the other is Lebanon), and Christians are the single largest non-Muslim religious group there. This period of intensified anti-Christian violence has significant social and political implications for that region, as well as security concerns for the West.

What can the United States do, apart from offering condolences?

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini proposed today that EU aid should be reduced or eliminated for countries that do not protect Christian minorities. According to Stratfor, the global intelligence news agency, Italy cannot stay isolated in the battle for Christians rights and must shift from monitoring to action, Frattini said. The European Union should work with and encourage countries that respect Christians rights, he said. Italy will present a resolution on religious freedom to the United Nations; the resolution is supported by the European Union, and several non-EU nations have expressed great interest.

For humanitarian reasons and for our own security, the Obama administration and the new Congress should support these initiatives.

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