The Senate must act now to save Christianity in Iraq

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By Carl Anderson, opinion contributor The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill
Whether Christianity and pluralism survive in the Middle East, or disappear forever, may well lie in the hands of the U.S. Senate.
Earlier this summer, the House unanimously passed HR 390, which would direct American aid to the minority communities — including Christians — targeted by ISIS for genocide. The bi-partisan bill was based in part on my testimony, and that of others, on Capitol Hill last year and would help ensure that money flows to minority religious communities who have too often been overlooked by American aid.

But the Senate still has not acted. With each passing day, these communities become smaller, more in danger of reaching a tipping point of no return.As a result of the inaction, despite the president’s promises of support for these communities, and statutory obligations included by Congress in May in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, aid to these communities has still not been forthcoming in any meaningful fashion.

Some may see the ISIS problem as something behind us. Having lost Mosul, and with Raqqa nearly liberated, there are fewer and fewer ways for ISIS to work its will or achieve its stated goals.

But their goal of eliminating Christians and other minorities from countries like Iraq remains within reach, helped along by an Obama-era policy that has continued even now to guide American government aid on the basis of individual need, without regard to the needs of fragile — nearly eliminated — minority groups.

Along with the lack of a full time coordinator on this issue within the administration, Senate inaction means that the odds go up that ISIS’ goals of genocide and religious cleansing will succeed. Senate inaction means that the odds go up that ISIS’ goals of genocide and religious cleansing will succeed.

To be clear, Trump administration officials have shown a real willingness to assist, but the bureaucratic reality, seemingly on autopilot, has made actualizing this quite complicated.

In the Consolidated Appropriations Act, aid to the communities that faced ISIS genocide is made statutory, true. But it is by no means the central theme of that act, and the mechanism for assisting these groups is left undefined. As such, career agency bureaucrats have gone so far to state recently that internal agency regulations outweighs any statutory considerations.

HR 390 is entirely about this issue, and makes crystal clear that American government assistance should flow not only to communities that faced genocide, but through those caring for them, including faith-based groups, such as local churches, dioceses, etc.

That America would allow communities targeted by genocide to fall through the cracks is unconscionable. This country put more than $7 billion into Sudan following the genocide in Darfur, including $2.7 billion in assistance from USAID for the Darfur region.

The fact that the Christian minority exists in areas like Iraq at all is reflective, at least in part, of an American policy that once gave priority to the needs of endangered groups. A century ago, during and following World War I, our government donated $25 million in aid (in WWI dollars) working with Church groups and individuals to assist the Christian minority that had been targeted for genocide in Armenia, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Persia (Iran), etc. Another $90 million or so flowed to the region from American individuals and groups.

After World War II, Jewish refugees were given priority in resettlement in the United States.

Americans a century ago understood that those targeted for genocide by the Ottomans deserved some priority in American aid. We understood the same about the Jewish community targeted by the Nazis. We understood the principle again in Darfur.

Why are things different with ISIS?

The Christian, Yazidi and Shi’ite communities of Iraq and Syria have faced an evil every bit as hateful and genocidal as these previous episodes.

Why American bureaucrats have not reacted in keeping with the historical precedent in this instance is unclear. But there is no excuse for the inaction.

My organization, the Knights of Columbus, has committed almost $15 million to Christians in the region. Other private aid groups have helped as well. This has helped, but government aid would be a game changer.

There is a ready-made solution: HR 390. It would make perfectly clear what is expected of our government’s agencies and would provide a blueprint and mechanism for saving these fragile communities.

America’s senior legislative body must act now, before it is too late.

Carl Anderson is CEO of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, and a New York Times bestselling author.