- “Those we are helping now can give us the greatest help in saving Europe. We are giving persecuted Christians what they need: homes, hospitals, and schools, and we receive in return what Europe needs most: a Christian faith, love and perseverance”. — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Daily News Hungary, November 28, 2019.
- “Our estimation is that more than 90 percent of Christian have already left Iraq and almost 50 percent of Christians in Syria have left the country”. — Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
- European leaders, rather than being embarrassed, should make the condition of Christians under Islam the starting point of their conversations with Muslims.
- “The fate of Eastern Christians and other minorities is the prelude to our own fate.” — Former French Prime Minister François Fillon, Valeurs Actuelles, December 12, 2019.
“There is an ongoing persecution of Christians. For months, we bishops have been denouncing what is happening in Burkina Faso” Bishop Kjustin Kientega recently said, “but nobody is listening to us.” “Evidently”, he concluded, “the West is more concerned with protecting its own interests”.
In a recent series of a transnational tragedies, 14 Christians were murdered in an attack on a church in Burkina Faso, 11 Christians were murdered in an attack on a bus in Kenya and seven Christians were murdered by Boko Haram in Cameroon. These three deadly attacks by Islamists in the same week give an idea of the intensity and frequency of global anti-Christian persecution.
Bishop Kientega was reporting a fact: the West is not listening to their plight. “While the Belgian government decided in 2011 to send F-16s to Libya to protect civilians threatened by Gaddafi, in 2014 it took no concrete measures to help the minorities in Iraq”, wrote Le Vif.
“Today, it is a deafening silence that prevails in the spans of our parliaments, as in associative or academic circles. Why this reluctance which borders on the outright abandonment of populations in distress?”
While Christians in Syria and Iraq were suffering the violence of radical Islamists in 2014, a group of French parliamentarians had summoned France to show solidarity with those Christians. But in front of the Palais Bourbon in Paris, only 200-300 protesters showed up — with the slogan “Today the East, tomorrow the West“. Christian leaders also denounced the British government for failing to help persecuted Christians. “This sad indifference raises the question of our ability to believe in our humanistic values”, wrote the French journalist Christian Makarian. Europe’s indifference to the fate of Eastern Christians does not come from far away; it is the powerful result of inertia and indifference, a malaise that is devouring the continent. It is a cynical betrayal, and the greatest signal of how numb liberal democracies have gotten.
In Europe, however, there is a solitary defender of persecuted Christians: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whom the mainstream media love to peck at and attack. No other European government has invested so much money, public diplomacy and time on this topic. Writing in Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver and Will Inboden explain that aid to Christians come from “a few international relief organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need, and the Hungarian government”. The Knights of Columbus alone raised $2 million to rebuild the Christian Iraqi town of Karamlesh.
“Those we are helping now can give us the greatest help in saving Europe,” Orbán recently said at an international conference, On Christian Persecution 2019, that he organized in Budapest. “We are giving persecuted Christians what they need: homes, hospitals, and schools, and we receive in return what Europe needs most: a Christian faith, love and perseverance”. “Europe is quiet,” Orbán went on. “A mysterious force shuts the mouths of European politicians and cripples their arms.” He said the issue of Christian persecution could only be considered a human rights issue in Europe. He insisted that “Christians are not allowed to be mentioned on their own, only together with other groups that are being persecuted for their faiths.” The persecution of Christians “is therefore folded into the diverse family of persecuted religious groups”.
According to Tristan Azbej, Hungary’s State Secretary for the Aid to Persecuted Christians, Orbán’s is the first European government to have a special State Secretariat “which has only one duty: To look after and monitor the destiny and the situation of the Christian communities all over the world, and if there is a need, we help.”
“… So far, we have spent 36.5 MUSD on strengthening the Christian communities, where they live. This is because of our basic approach [is] that we do not want to have…the members of the Christian communities leave their homes, but enable them to stay and be stronger there. Our principle is to bring help where it is needed, and not bring problems where there are no problems, yet at least. In this framework we have rebuilt houses for 1200 Christian families in Iraq to enable them to return. We are building schools for the Christians in the Middle East with the Caldean Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church. We cover the medical costs of Christian hospitals, three of them in Syria; we are just now reconstructing 33 Christian churches in Lebanon and we are carrying out a comprehensive development and construction program on the Nineveh Plains”.
Hungary’s leadership is bringing the plight of persecuted Christians to the attention of an apathetic Europe. “We have 245 million reasons to be here. This is how many people are persecuted daily because of their Christian belief,” said Azbej on November 26 as he opened the International Conference on Christian Persecution in Budapest.
Many Christian leaders were present, including the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch Ignatius Aphrem II, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Najeeb Michaeel and Rev. Joseph Kassab, head of the Evangelical Community of Syria and Lebanon. Catholic speakers also attended the conference. They included Cardinal Peter Erdo, Primate of Hungary and Archbishop of Budapest, and Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith.
Prime Minister Orbán also met Christian leaders from Nigeria. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka thanked Hungary and Orbán for their support and gestures of solidarity to the Sri Lankan people. “Our estimation is that more than 90 percent of Christian have already left Iraq and almost 50 percent of Christians in Syria have left the country”, the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church Ignatius Aphrem II said in Budapest. The Hungarian government gave 1.9 million euros for rebuilding Christian houses in Telskuf, Iraq.
The French author Bernard-Henri Lévy recently returned from a trip in Nigeria and he described anti-Christian hate in a long essay for Paris Match: “The mutilated corpses of women. This little girl strangled with the chain of her cross. This other one, smashed against a tree at the entrance of her hamlet”. Lévy describes “the call of the mosques radicalized by the Muslim Brotherhood and which multiply to the exact extent that the churches are burning”. That is why Hungary also provided aid to Nigeria’s Christian communities. 1,000 Christians have been murdered in Nigeria only this year.
Hungary is the only country in Europe not only organizing international conferences on Christian persecution, but also devoting specific aid to Christians in the Middle East. The Hungary Helps initiative is providing $1.7 million to supporting hospitals in Syria. Azbej said that the Hungarian government is “running programs in five Middle Eastern and two sub-Saharan countries” with “one of the most extensive programs [being] the reconstruction of the city of Tel Askuf in Northern Iraq”.
Hungary also donated $450,000 to build a new school in Erbil (in the Kurdish inhabited area of Iraq, where many Christians found shelter). Italian Cardinal Mario Zenari, Vatican’s envoy to Syria for a decade, approached the Hungarian government for help. Christian Orthodox leaders also thanked Orbán for his support. US aid agencies also signed agreements with Hungary on persecution of Christians.
Two years ago, when Orbán opened the first International Consultation on Christian Persecution hosted in Budapest, he called on Europe to break the “shackles of political correctness” and stand against Christian persecution. No one else in Europe except him speaks about defending “Christianity”. In addition, Hungary’s parliament passed a government-initiated decree to call attention to attacks against Christians and qualify it as genocide.
The special “Hungary Helps” programme was set up to provide aid to persecuted Christians in Africa and the Middle East. “Help should be provided where the trouble lies instead of bringing the trouble to Europe,” said a spokesman for the programme, which disbursed $30m in aid during the past two years. In solidarity with persecuted Christians, Hungary Helps added the Arabic letter ن, which was painted by ISIS on Christian homes in northern Iraq for labelling the Christians who had to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, flee or face death.
Other European governments have been all cowardly in the extreme. The so-called “humanitarian Europe” has stood silent, exuding hypocrisy, spinelessness and blindness. European leaders, rather than being embarrassed, should make the condition of Christians under Islam the starting point of their conversations with Muslims. Why have the governments of the UK, France, Germany, Italy and others — countries far richer and larger than Hungary — not done the same as Hungary? Why have they turned off the microphones?
“The fate of Eastern Christians and other minorities is the prelude to our own fate,” said former French Prime Minister François Fillon recently. Like it or not, “illiberal” Orbán understands it. His liberal critics do not.
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.