Religious minorities face genocide in Middle East, activists say

Religious freedom advocate Katrina Lantos Swett, right, leads a panel for the opening of the In Defense of Christians national convention on Sept. 7, 2016, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Nearly six months after Secretary of State John Kerry declared the murder of Christians in the Middle East a “genocide,” Westerners are doing little to stop the killings, said activists gathered for a convention on the victims’ plight.

Religious freedom advocate Katrina Lantos Swett called the crisis “perhaps the great moral challenge of our time right now,” at a news conference Wednesday (Sept. 7) opening the national convention for In Defense of Christians, an advocacy group.

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“I am baffled and heartbroken, as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, at how it is possible for the West to seem so, so blind, willfully blind, or even worse, aware but relatively disinterested in what is unfolding in our time, on our watch, in our purview of being able to act,” said Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

Activists are urging Congress to take decisive steps to protect the lives and culture of groups such as Assyrian and Coptic Christians, and non-Christians such as the Yazidis.

Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich., announced plans during the news conference to introduce legislation to support restoration of Coptic Christian churches destroyed by Egyptian looters in religious violence in 2013.

Andrew Doran, co-founder of In Defense of Christians, said his group and other advocates will be working together to seek congressional action on ending the conflict in Syria, which he said is breeding terrorism in that region and beyond it.

“It’s not coming, it’s here—it’s in our churches, it’s in our nightclubs and it’s in our public spaces and it will get much worse before it gets better,” he said. “If we move swiftly to end the conflict in Syria we can save lives there now and save American lives and other lives elsewhere in the decades to come.”

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