But Williams, a former Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, emphasized that persecution is taking place outside of the context of war. “Iraqi Christians were not fleeing warfare when they fled Mosul,” he said. They remained in the city for over a week after its fall to the Islamic State, and only fled when the order came for the subjugation or forced conversion of Christians. In Egypt, which is not at war, Williams claimed, “Christians are subject to mob rule, and the police don’t protect Christians. Christians are killed with impunity.” And Palestinian Christians, Williams noted, face persecution from the Hamas government in Gaza, where their population has been halved in eight years, and feel increasingly isolated by the Islamization of the Palestinian national movement in the West Bank.
Speaking of his long experience observing anti-Christian persecution as a journalist and a researcher for Human Rights Watch, Williams said, “I didn’t put it together as a pan-Middle Eastern issue until I was in Egypt during the Arab Spring. But there’s an ideology at work. There’s an idea behind Christian persecution.” Williams detailed the growth, since 1967, of the ideology of radical jihad out of the Islamic puritanical Salafist and Wahabist movements. This ideology views Christians as “a bad thing,” and conflates them with the imagined and historic enemies of Sunni Islam, such as the Crusaders and governments led by heterodox Muslims. “This is why, in Syria for example, Jabhat al Nusra feels it necessary not only to conquer towns, but to burn churches and desecrate Christian icons once they have done so,” Williams said.
While Christians may now be bearing the brunt of its assault, “the Muslims are next in line,” Williams said, noting many examples of Muslims being targeted with jihadi terror, from renowned novelists and scholars to women seeking equal rights and ordinary Iraqis trying to protect their Christian neighbors. “The Islamic State’s murder of Christians sends a message to ordinary Muslims: ‘We can do whatever we want,'” Williams said.
Williams charged Western leaders with neglecting the threat to Christians, including former President Bush, who dismissed the Vatican’s warnings about the consequences of the Iraq War for Christians, and President Obama, who Williams said uses “sophistry” to deny the reality of Christian group persecution. This negligence is even more egregious, Williams said, given that, “The West bears responsibility for intensified persecution of Christians, because of its invasion of Iraq and its tolerance for governments that violate human rights.”
Williams called for Western powers “to be consistent in advocating for equality in the Middle East,” and to increase aid for Christian refugees in the region. Syria’s two million Christians, in particular, he said, must find a “proper refuge” in Syria and in neighboring countries. “How is it possible that in five years, neither Europe nor the United States nor anyone in the Middle Easthas made proper preparation or consistent help for refugees from the Syrian war?” he asked.
The full video of Williams’ talk can be seen at www.middle-east-minorities.com. The talk was part of a lecture series on The Future of Religious Minorities in the Middle East being sponsored by Christian Solidarity International (CSI).