Boston University interviews Elizabeth Prodromou, the vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on the increasing amount of anti-Christian violence occurring throughout the Middle East.
By Rich Barlow
6/17/2011 Egypt (BU Today) – “Non-Muslim communities have become endangered species throughout much of the Islamic world,” Christian human rights advocate John Eibner wrote in the Boston Globe last month. From mobs torching churches in Cairo to massacres of Christians in Iraq and Egypt to last winter’s assassination of a Christian Pakistani cabinet minister and the beheading of a Tunisian Catholic priest, jihadists are committing violence in a “toxic culture of extremist Muslim supremacy,” Eibner wrote.
BU Today asked Elizabeth Prodromou, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of international relations, what’s behind the uptick in anti-Christian violence taking place amid the uprisings against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, known as the “Arab Spring”?
Prodromou is a vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a watchdog panel appointed by the president and Congress to monitor religious repression globally. The commission recommends “countries of particular concern” for religious intolerance to the State Department for possible sanctions, although only one country, Eritrea, has been sanctioned in the commission’s 13-year existence. It also keeps a watch list of countries that are tipping toward oppression.
BU Today: Is the Globe columnist’s statement about “endangered species” accurate?
Prodromou (left): I think that’s a brilliant way to capture a very concerning situation. Traveling in the region in the fall and spring, it was interesting to hear two religious leaders use that very term. One of them said, “You have this legislation in America, and it protects endangered animals. That’s how we feel as a Christian community here” in Turkey.
Who is committing the violence, religious fanatics or governments?
Both. Governments—and illustrative cases would be Egypt, Iraq, Turkey—have systematically over the 20th century oppressed their Christian minorities, to the point that in Turkey they’re almost erased, and in Iraq have declined precipitously.
What are your commission and the State Department doing about the problem?
We have designated Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran as countries of particular concern. And Egypt, for the first time. Turkey is a watch-list country. The United States neither can nor should tell these countries what to do. But we provide enormous amounts of foreign assistance. We provide over $1 billion a year to the Egyptians, the second largest recipient after Israel. We provide a lot of financial assistance to Turkey, Saudi Arabia.
We can more carefully target our assistance. We can move away from military assistance to economic development and assistance that helps to build a civil society, where people learn to respect the rule of law. We can provide assistance that helps to professionalize police training, so that policing occurs with respect for human rights. The commission has proposed training for members of judiciaries, whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, so that members understand international human rights standards.