Our wars in Iraq, Libya—even Vietnam—have been devastating for Christians. So why won’t we stop? By Casey Chalk Middle Eastern Christians demonstrating in the Netherlands. Credit: Robert Hoetink/Shutterstock
Back in June, Islamic militants in Burkina Faso entered a village, forced everyone to lie face down on the ground, found four people wearing crucifixes, and summarily executed them. It was the second time in as many months that Islamists had singled out and murdered people wearing Christian imagery. At least 20 Christians in Burkina Faso have been killed in 2019 across five attacks that have targeted Christian communities. “The trouble began three years ago,” reports The Washington Post, when Islamic militants began trickling in from neighboring Mali. Many of them carried weapons stolen after the 2011 collapse of Libya, which, we should remember, was caused by a U.S.-led NATO intervention. As we never seem to learn, American foreign adventurism has been terrible for the global Christian population. The president of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, Bishop Laurent Dabiré, warned in June that local Christians were in danger of “elimination” because of continued attacks by Islamic militants. “Their main target appears to be the Christians and I believe they are trying to trigger an interreligious conflict,” Dabiré noted. Christians are only 20 percent of Burkina Faso’s population, and the threat to African Christians by Muslim extremists connected to instability farther north is not unique to there. It has been observed in Mali, the Central African Republic, Niger, and Nigeria. It has included kidnappings, rapes, executions, and the beheading of a 77-year-old Spanish nun in CAR. “Africa is a continent where violence against Christians is exploding,” Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga told the German media outlet Deutsche Welle. So…Libya. Eight years after the NATO intervention, the country is still a chaotic mess of competing violent militias. Millions of Libyan refugees now reside in other countries. Thousands of Libyan civilians, soldiers, and mercenaries from neighboring countries have been killed. Nor can we forget Benghazi, where Islamic militants dragged the body of a U.S. ambassador through the streets. Now we can add to that list the violence and persecution of Christians 1,500 miles away. Imagine the war in Ukraine causing tremors of violence in London. We remain a nation with one of the most vocal Christian political communities in the West—still one third of America’s citizens deem her a Christian nation. One would think we would steer clear of conflicts that disproportionately harm Christians of other lands, especially where they are already vulnerable minorities. Yet we still invaded Iraq in 2003, and it’s proven disastrous for the ancient, venerable Christian community there. Before the invasion, approximately 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. Today, there are fewer than 250,000, an 80 percent drop. Though the Islamic State, the greatest existential threat to the survival of Iraqi Christianity, has largely been neutralized (for now), new threats from Muslim ethnic militias remain. Power vacuums, it would seem, cause distress for minority groups. The Islamic State—whose creation can be traced back to instability set off by the invasion—have persecuted, abused, and murdered plenty of Christians in neighboring Syria. The Christian population of Syria, similar to that of Iraq, dropped from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000 today. ISIS’s influence is still felt there. We could also add to the list the state of Israel, to whom the United States gives billions of dollars every year. Estimates made by the British during their colonial rule in 1922 put the Christian population of Palestine near 10 percent, and near 8 percent in 1946. Yet huge numbers of Arab Christians fled or were expelled from Jewish-controlled areas of Mandatory Palestine during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Elias Michael Chacour, a former archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and All Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, recounts in his book Blood Brothers how Yishuv forces expelled Christians from his village in Palestine. They then executed many of the village’s Christian men. Also relevant is Vietnam. The United States encouraged hundreds of thousands of Catholic Vietnamese to flee communist North Vietnam in the 1950s for safety in South Vietnam. The South became a haven for religious liberty, and the Catholic population there flourished, until Washington endorsed the execution of Christian South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. After South Vietnam’s 1975 surrender to the communists—precipitated by America’s withdrawal of military and financial support—the persecution of Christians increased multifold. For example, then-archbishop of Saigon Nguyen Van Thuan was arrested and imprisoned—he would spend 13 years in prison, nine of which were in solitary confinement. Africa and the Blood of Christians The Anti-Christian Genocide the West Forgot Yet while the United States’ record on protecting vulnerable Christian minority communities around the world is a disgrace, we are reticent to learn the relevant lessons. Senior members of the administration have been eager to pursue new military interventions. If it’s not conservative hawks demanding that we crush America’s enemies, it’s self-righteous liberal do-gooders like Samantha Power, who never see an international crisis that doesn’t merit U.S. involvement. Power, we should also remember, supported the Saudi intervention in Yemen—now among the worst humanitarian disasters of this century—during her time in the White House. Whatever the character, and whatever the political party or ideology, the same thing always happens. Military adventurism inevitably causes instability, which immediately puts vulnerable communities—be they Christian, Yazidi, or Muslim—at greater risk. Thanks to a long, seemingly unlikely series of events, Christians in Burkina Faso now die because eight years ago we decided to bomb Moammar Gaddafi’s totalitarian regime out of existence. In the ensuing chaos, guns and militants flowed out of Libya across the African continent. How many more times must we do this before we learn our lesson? Casey Chalk is pursuing a graduate degree in theology from Christendom College and is senior writer for Crisis Magazine. He covers religion and other issues for The American Conservative.