Christian Minorities Under Attack: Iraq and Egypt

Jan 20, 2011 Issues: Religious Freedom

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Opening Statement of Congressman Trent Franks

"Christian Minorities Under Attack: Iraq and Egypt"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

10:00am-12:00pm

2359 Rayburn

Welcome to our witnesses and to everyone who joins us this morning.  Mr. Wolf, thank you for chairing this important hearing.

Like most Americans, I was shocked and deeply grieved by the recent attacks against Christians in both Iraq and Egypt.  These recent attacks were some of the worst we’ve seen in these countries which is why it is so important we are here to discuss what more can be done to stop the senseless persecution of Christians in the Middle East.  I look forward to hearing our expert witnesses address these critical issues. 

The October 31st attack on Baghdad's Syrian Catholic Church resulted in the deaths of nearly 60 worshipers and police officers and sadly, it was only the beginning in what has become an all-out war on Christians by certain terrorists in the region.  When the terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq, attacked the Syrian Church, they claimed that it was in retribution for a grievance they had against Christians in Egypt.  As if this attack, one of the worst in Iraq’s recent history, weren't bad enough, Iraqi and Egyptian Christians were plagued by violence and brutal attacks throughout the recent holiday season.  A cluster of 10 bomb attacks rattled Christian homes in Baghdad over Christmas and New Year's, resulting in the deaths of two Christians and wounding at least a dozen others.  Christian worshipers in Alexandria, Egypt, who were leaving New Year's mass, were greeted by a powerful car bomb that killed at least 21 and injured another 100.

In Iraq, the attacks over Christmas and New Year’s came on the heels of a mid-December announcement by one of al-Qaeda’s front groups, the Islamic State of Iraq, that all Christians in Iraq have been deemed “legitimate targets.”  In fact, Iraq’s military spokesman, Major General al-Moussawi, said that, “The aim of these attacks is to prevent Christians from celebrating the new year’s holiday.” 

Christians in Baghdad didn’t even get a chance to celebrate their most holy religious holiday – the birth of Christ, the one who said: Behold I stand at the door and knock.  He did not come to force Himself on others; instead, He gave us the true example of religious freedom. 

I was particularly struck by how some of the bloody attacks against Christians were so callously brutal in their simplicity.  Bombs were placed near the homes of at least 14 Christian families in Baghdad several weeks ago and, during one such attack, Islamist militants left a bomb on the doorstep of the home of an elderly Christian couple and rang the doorbell.  When the elderly couple answered the door, the bomb exploded, tragically ending both of their precious lives.

The recent attacks in Egypt and the subsequent demonstrations by Egyptian Muslims in defense of their Christian neighbors is a powerful reminder that the terrorists do not speak for everyone in the Middle East.  Moreover, we should not let their fear tactics impede our resolve to challenge them.  As you know, Abdel Kareem  Soleiman Amer was recently released after being imprisoned in Egypt for the past four years.  He was imprisoned because he, like these more recent “human shields”, stood in defense of the Coptic Egyptian community that had been attacked.  While Kareem has been released, we cannot forget what he suffered to stand up for other human beings not of his own faith. 

I was very involved in his case from the beginning and made sure that he was not forgotten.  We cannot let the Egyptian government get away with the injustice they are perpetrating against Christians in their country and their fellow Muslim neighbors who stand up for them. 

When the church in Baghdad was attacked, President Obama issued a statement that didn’t even recognize that it was a church or that Christians were targeted in the attack; he merely mentioned that it was another tragic terrorist attack in Baghdad.  President Obama, there's a quote from the Iroquois Indian tribe that wisely said, "The secret of the universe is the true naming of things."  When we fail to call religious persecution and terrorism for what they are, we only delay that shining moment when they will be mentioned only in history.  How can you whitewash the truth from what happened?  How can this Administration have a policy in Iraq that completely disregards the specific targeting of vulnerable Christians by terrorists if they truly seek to stabilize the country?  How can the U.S. government continue to fund “democracy” and military support in Egypt or Iraq when this Administration doesn’t even understand that religious freedom is the only true bulwark against the religious intolerance and extremism that threatens security and true democracy in these countries?

The status quo in Egypt is not acceptable.  Egypt has long been hailed as a democratic ally of the United States in the Middle East and, as such, has received nearly $2 billion in foreign aid annually.  It is increasingly difficult for us as Americans to maintain support for a government that is attacking the voices  that would help sustain its own democracy, while defending the Islamic extremists who inflame religious intolerance.  If no significant change takes place, I for one will call for the United States to reduce aid to Egypt.  I don't see how we can justify taxpayer dollars that go to a regime that empowers rogue extremists to engage in these senseless acts of violence. 

Security must be enhanced not only at places of worship in Iraq, but also near Christian homes and when they travel to and from work.  There needs to be more training of Iraqi police and security force members to protect indigenous Christian and other minorities.  We need to find a way to allow them to leave the country if they want to live in safety and freedom.  And we desperately need to target these Islamist militants who are so ruthlessly exterminating minority groups in Iraq by working with the local Christian and other religious minority communities to identify and prevent security threats. 

I express my deep solidarity with the Christians in Iraq and Egypt who have suffered, and the Muslims who have risked their own lives to stand up for them.  These precious people are the essential fabric of societies that respect and preserve religious pluralism.  May God help us to be instruments of His deliverance to all of those oppressed in the world. 

Thank you and I look forward to hearing your testimonies.